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State of the Union Poses Four Big Questions

Pete Souza, Official White House Photo
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
President Barack Obama acknowledges applause from Cabinet members at a reception in the Blue Room after his State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2016.

President Barack Obama gave his eighth and final State of the Union address on Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress. Instead of a traditional speech where the President lays out an agenda for the coming year, the President took more of a long term view.

President Obama suggested that Americans need to answer four key questions: How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy? How do we make technology work for us, not against us, especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change? How do we keep America safe, and lead the world without becoming its policeman? How can we make our politics reflect what's best in us and not what's worst?

Donna Hoffman, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Northern Iowa, says while the speech still followed a basic State of the Union blueprint, it was colored by the atmosphere in which it was given.

"There were a number of things the President mentioned, that while he didn't address any of the Republican candidates by name, certainly were counterpoints to things that they are saying. And it wasn't just Donald Trump either," she says. 

Tim Hagle, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa says it was a good speech, in which the President seemed more relaxed and engaged than in the past. But, he says, it sounded more like a campaign speech than a typical State of the Union. He also had praise for the Republican response, this year delivered by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

"It was a very good one. Usually these things are difficult to give because they're in a different format. It's a shorter format. You're staring into a camera, not talking to people in a room, and that's very difficult. And she did a very good job."

In this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer also asks Hoffman and Hagle about the latest polling leading into the February 1st Iowa caucuses. The latest Iowa Poll by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics shows Texas Senator Ted Cruz leading the pack of Republican candidates with 25% support. Donald Trump is in second place with 22%, but the gap between the two is within the margin of error.

"We're starting to see some separation," says Hagle. He says there is some question about whether Florida Senator Marco Rubio, with 12% support, and neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, with 11% support, have the ground game to finish in third place. Hagle says Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has the organization in Iowa to outperform his poll numbers.

A Quinnipiac University poll shows Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with a slight lead over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Hoffman says while Sanders has some momentum and has put a lot of effort into the state, Clinton is not taking anything for granted. The latest Iowa Poll, released Thursday shows Clinton with a slight edge over Sanders.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk