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First Read: Obama's First Campaign Speech of 2016

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

President Obama preps for 'nontraditional' final State of the Union 2:15

Obama's first campaign speech of 2016

Not only is this President Obama's final State of the Union address; also think of it as his first campaign speech of 2016 -- and certainly not the last one. Yes, Obama will talk policy, list his achievements, and discuss what still needs to be done. But tonight's 9:00 pm ET speech from Capitol Hill will give him the opportunity to lay down a political marker on the 2016 contest. "We've got a lot of good things going for us," Obama said in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, previewing his State of the Union speech as part of the Today Show's day at the White House. When Lauer asked Obama about all of the fear/unease/insecurity that many Americans said they feel, the president responded, "We went through a lot over these last 10 years. We went through Katrina, the Iraq war, the worst financial crisis of our lifetime," he said. "It is sometimes important for us to take a step back and take measure of how far we've come." And when Lauer asked about Donald Trump's rise and whether Obama bears any responsibility for it, he answered, "Talk to me if he wins. Then we'll have a conversation about how responsible I am for him."

The Evolution of President Obama's State of the Union 1:01

Obama's party has fared much better when he's on the ballot than when he isn't

The challenge for Obama in 2016 is that he and his party have fared much better when he's on the ballot (see 2008, 2012) than when he's not (2010, 2014). Now one explanation why has been turnout; Obama's Democratic coalition has shown up in presidential contests and not in midterms. But as Obama plays a supporting role in 2016, it's worth noting that the president's speech tonight probably won't cause heartburn for, say, Hillary Clinton -- since they're pretty much on the same page when it comes to the issues. In 2000, there was plenty of handwringing from Gore headquarters about Bill Clinton and his impact on the election. And in 2008, George W. Bush was radioactive for fellow Republicans. Obama, by contrast, remains very popular with rank-and-file Democrats, but he (like Clinton was) is a polarizing national figure. By the way, here are the apples-to-apples Gallup job approval ratings for the last four two-term presidents around their final State of the Union:

  • Ronald Reagan: 49%
  • Bill Clinton: 64%
  • George W. Bush: 34%
  • Barack Obama now: 47%
Final State of the Union: Making the Most of it 2:24

Nikki Haley's big moment

Tonight isn't simply President Obama's final State of the Union; it's also Paul Ryan's first State of the Union as House speaker; and it's maybe the last time Vice President Biden stands behind the president in an address to Congress. But tonight also represents one more thing -- it's South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's big moment, as she delivers the GOP's response to Obama. It's an even bigger moment given that she's considered a VP possibility in 2016. But as we've said before, beware of the State of the Union Responder Curse. Consider:

  • 2007: Jim Webb (left the Senate, dropped out of '16 Dem race)
  • 2008: Kathleen Sebelius (Obamacare rollout!)
  • 2009: Bobby Jindal (uncomfortably awkward intro, dropped out of '16 GOP race)
  • 2010: Bob McDonnell (felony conviction!!!)
  • 2011: Paul Ryan (losing VP nominee, though is now House speaker - but is that a blessing or curse?)
  • 2012: Mitch Daniels (out of politics)
  • 2013: Marco Rubio (the great water incident, still running for president)
  • 2014: Cathy McMorris Rodgers (safe - SO FAR)
  • 2015: Joni Ernst (safe - SO FAR)

Biden clarifies his Sanders-Clinton-inequality remarks

President Obama isn't the only administration official trying to leave a mark on the 2016 race. Here was Joe Biden in a CNN interview. "Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. And he has credibility on it," Biden told CNN. "It's relatively new for Hillary to talk about that," he added, acknowledging that Clinton has "come forward with some really thoughtful approaches to deal with the issue" of income inequality." More Biden: "Hillary's focus has been other things up to now, and that's been Bernie's -- no one questions Bernie's authenticity on those issues." That sure sounds like a slight to Hillary Clinton. But in Biden's interview with NBC's Savannah Guthrie this morning, the vice president clarified that he was referring to Clinton's four years as secretary of state where she wasn't as focused on domestic policy. "This has been Bernie's mantra," Biden said. Clinton "is coming up with some good ideas."

NBC|SurveyMonkey Tracking Poll

Trump and Clinton retain their national leads: Turning to the actual 2016 contest, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton remain national front-runners for their party's nominations less than three weeks before the Iowa caucus, according to a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll released this morning. The online poll of registered voters shows Trump with 38% support among Republicans, with Ted Cruz receiving 20% and Marco Rubio getting 11%. No other Republican garnered double-digit backing. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton holds a 15-point lead over Bernie Sanders among Democrats nationwide. The Democratic front-runner gets the backing of 52% of Democratic voters, while 37% support Sanders. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley gets 2%.

Tales from the trail

Don't miss yesterday's dispatches by NBC's campaign embeds -- on a man in New Hampshire criticizing Trump for being "boring"; on Ben Carson's claims of newfound energy; and on why Jeb Bush had blood on his shirt. Check out this new feature and look for more dispatches from NBC's reporters on the ground.

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence endorses Clinton as Hillary-Bernie gun battle heats up

Per NBC's Kristen Welker: "On Tuesday at an event in Ames, Iowa, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence will endorse Hillary Clinton for President. Brady Campaign President Dan Gross will speak at the event and discuss how Hillary Clinton is the best candidate to continue to stand up to the gun lobby and fight for gun violence prevention."

You can't make this up: Jeb's Super PAC knocks Rubio over "amnesty"

And NBC's Kasie Hunt notes that Right to Rise, the Super PAC backing Jeb Bush, is up with a new 30-second ad hitting Marco Rubio for flip-flopping on immigration -- and knocks him because he "worked with liberal Chuck Schumer to co-author the path to citizenship bill." Our take: You know an attack is desperate when they will attack an opponent for having the same stance

On the trail

Donald Trump holds a rally in Cedar Falls, IA at 7:00 pm ET… Hillary is also in the Hawkeye State, hitting Ames and Dubuque… Ted Cruz stumps in New Hampshire… Jeb Bush makes three stops in the Hawkeye State… Carly Fiorina also is in Iowa… And John Kasich campaigns in Nevada.

Countdown to NBC/YouTube debate in SC: 5 days

Countdown to Iowa: 20 days

Countdown to New Hampshire: 28 days

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