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Pre-Spinning the State of the Union

President George W. Bush's fourth State of the Union address isn't slated to begin until 9:01 p.m. ET tonight, but the spinning and positioning has been underway for the last 48 hours.

Much of what the president will say in his speech has already been poll-tested and previewed in the media, giving partisans on both sides the chance to frame the debate before Bush utters a single word.

Expectations-setting is the name of the game in the speech run-up. The Republican National Committee released a polling memo yesterday from Matthew Dowd that sought to tamp down the story line of an expected Bush bounce in the immediate aftermath of the speech.

"While all of us would welcome increased public approval, the history (both recent and the last 50 years) of poll movement around this event shows quite a different story," Dowd writes. He says that over the past five decades, presidents' standing have actually dropped by a reed-thin 0.2 percent on average while Bush's own approval ratings have dipped by an average 0.4 percent after his first four State of the Union speeches.

Dowd added that even President Ronald Reagan -- often referred to as the Great Communicator -- saw his job approval ratings slip by an average of 2.6 percent immediately following his State of the Union addresses.

"Context is everything in politics," writes Dowd.

The leaders of the Democrats' House and Senate campaign arms sought to provide their own context in a Monday conference call with reporters.

"When the president is done with his speech tomorrow night, one thing is going to be very clear," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.). "Democrats are the party of change and Republicans are the party of status quo."

Schumer said that voters have "caught onto the George Bush waltz," which he described as "broad platitudes and lofty ideals and then when it comes to solving problems and doing what they said they would do, they let the special interests run the show."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel's (Ill.) Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sponsoring an ad on Fox News Channel set to run in the half hour before Bush is scheduled to speak tonight. The commercial is designed to drive home the idea that the GOP Congress has "rubber-stamped" President Bush's agenda. It features video clips from Bush's last three State of the Union addresses with the requisite standing ovations on issues like Social Security reform, a prescription drug benefit under Medicare and the energy bill. "Sitting House Republicans have voted with President Bush 86% of the time," appears on screen at the ad's end. "What special interest will the Republican Congress rubber stamp this time?"

Make sure to listen to how much of each side's spin makes it into the post-speech analysis on television, in print and on the Web.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 31, 2006; 5:38 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Republican Party  
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