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Posted at 7:14 AM ET, 01/13/2011

First thoughts on President Obama's Tucson speech

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

President Obama delivered a stirring address Wednesday night at a memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting, calling on the country to collectively gather itself and move forward together in hopes of living up to the ideals represented by those who lost their lives.

Our initial thoughts on the speech are after the jump.

* Obama went big: As we wrote Tuesday, most presidential speeches in the wake of tragedies like this one tend to be brief. Obama's wasn't -- he spoke for 33 minutes (including applause) -- and used the address to not only remember the victims but deliver an aspirational message about the ties that bind us as Americans and a rejection of incivility in public discourse. Taking on big themes was a major risk for Obama since the key to speeches like this one is not to overshadow the victims. He pulled it off -- using the small stories of each individual who lost their lives as a window onto a larger aspect of community.

* Obama was invested: Unlike some of the Oval office speeches he has delivered where he seemed to be reading the text, Obama was clearly invested in this address -- intellectually and emotionally. And, it showed. Obama spoke in the poetry he used so well in his 2008 campaign, not the prose that has, too often for his supporters, defined his presidency. That was especially true when Obama spoke of the Christina Taylor Green, the youngest victim of the tragedy; "I want us to live up to her expectations," Obama said. "I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it."

* Obama was nonpartisan: There was significant chatter in the runup to the speech that Obama might use the moment of the memorial service to condemn the coarsening of political discourse in the country -- and, in so doing, blame Republicans for it. And, that talk was ramped up when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin issued a statement via Facebook that heightened the rhetorical stakes by attacking those who had committed "blood libel" against her. But, while Obama did address the lack of civility in the political sphere, it was in decidedly nonpolitical terms that even won kudos among many Republicans. "At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds," Obama said.

* A different sort of crowd: Because the crowd was not limited to those who had loved ones injured in the shootings and included many college students, it often seemed celebratory rather than somber. Obama seemed to struggle a bit at the start with the excitement of the crowd but warmed to it as he went -- always mindful, however, of keeping the victims, their families and what had been lost at the center of the proceedings. To be clear, we are not offering a judgment on whether or not it was an appropriate tone for a memorial service but rather that it made for at-times incongruous sounds and images on television.

Menendez and Kean running close: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is in a statistical tie with his 2006 challenger, state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R), according to a new poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling.

The PPP poll shows Menendez at 41 percent and Kean at 39 percent. Menendez holds double-digit leads on two other candidates tested, former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

New Jersey has been a vexing state for Republicans over the last decade. Polling has often showed them with a path to victory in a Senate race, but in both 2002 and 2006, their efforts came up short. Gov. Chris Christie's (R) 2009 victory should be heartening, but the federal level is often another matter.

New Jersey is also a very difficult state in which to communicate -- it has no media market of its own, sharing Philadelphia and New York City -- which means that voters tend to be undecided far longer than in other states of equivalent size.

And Democrats are quick to note that Menendez trailed Kean for much of the 2006 race before whipping by him in the summer/fall of that year to eventually win by nine points.

Obama near 50 again: Another poll is showing President Obama's approval rating improving in the aftermath of the lame duck session.

Quinnipiac University pegs Obama's approval at 48 percent, his highest mark from that pollster in a year.

It also comes on the heals of some Gallup tracking polls that have shown Obama trending up slightly and even hitting 50 percent at one point.

If he can get to 50 and stay there, that will make him tough to beat in 2012.


Christie said that if Sarah Palin continues to avoid unscripted moments, "she'll never be president."

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who polled 18 points behind Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in a survey this week, said a potential primary from Heller doesn't concern him as he pushed forward with his plan to run for reelection in 2012. Heller, meanwhile, affirmed that he is considering running against Ensign.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who could face a tea party inspired primary challenge, is pushing a balanced budget amendment. One of the co-sponsors is his potential opponent, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Newt Gingrich will address a Lincoln Day Dinner in Honolulu next month.

Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has added Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno to his list of supporters.

Newly minted Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) got a break when a top potential opponent, new Iron Range Resources Commissioner Tony Sertich, said he would not challenge Cravaack in 2012.


"Republican Redistricting Efforts Bankrupt for 2011?" -- Nathan Gonzales, Roll Call

"The GOP's Obama Envy" -- Newsweek

"Kennedy's decision throws field wide open" -- Boston Globe

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | January 13, 2011; 7:14 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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