Clock starts to tick for vital second term tasks
The personal nature of the campaign against Obama’s plans for gun controls, in which the secret service security given to his daughters was raised by the gun lobby, is a glimpse of the nature of the fight ahead.
Immigration reform may have greater success as Republicans accept, following the president’s re-election on a strong Hispanic vote, that there must be agreement in this area or the GOP will lose support among Latino constituents.
Obama needs to score some successes on job creation and growth figures if he is to restore stalling public confidence in an economic recovery.
Foreign policy will inevitably absorb much of the president’s early second-term focus as the conflict in Syria rages and a growing militant Islamic threat emerges in Africa.
The re-election of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has a frosty relationship with Obama, could raise tensions further, particularly if the two clash on the Palestinians and a possible Israeli military strike on Iran.
At home, the president must move quickly to cash in on the political capital from his strong re-election victory, knowing that he spent much of it from his historic first election win fighting for the economic stimulus plan and the reform of healthcare insurance.
Second-term presidents traditionally enjoy a post-inauguration honeymoon period of up to eight months but Mr Obama’s battles with the GOP have shortened this considerably. “Days in your second term are in many ways more important than in your first,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told the Washington Post this week.
Campaigning for the 2014 midterm elections begins in the autumn, leaving Mr Obama with a narrow window in which to push through his packed agenda of legislative reforms.
Congress will be unwilling to take on any hot political issues after the summer before they set out their stall for voters.
In the way of election cycles the next race will begin in early 2015 or even earlier if vice-president Joe Biden decides not to run, opening up the race to a plethora of prospective early candidates.
This will eat into Obama’s capacity to legislate further as the run for the presidency in 2016 escalates and leaves him with about 18 months to introduce the changes underpinning the message of his address.
In other words, he must make the most of what little post-inaugural political goodwill there may be and move quickly to avoid being another second-term lame duck like so many predecessors.