David Gregory Handicaps SOTU

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Several hours before he delivers his first State of the Union address, President Obama’s speech is being previewed in the press and gnawed on by the punditocracy.

“It’s tradition,” says David Gregory, moderator of NBC’s beltway roundtable Meet the Press, regarding the relentless handicapping.

There is admittedly much to chew on: the president will deliver the address amidst slipping approval numbers and an imperiled health care reform bill in the wake of a Republican victory in last week’s special Senate election in Massachusetts.

“It truly is a definitive moment in our politics,” says Gregory. “The stakes are so high for the country this year. You’ve got an economy in recession. You’ve got the country’s safety at issue and this big question about whether or not  the government works for people. I just think this is a really important moment. We’ve had them before. But it makes the questions of how does he account for the difficulty of his first year even more salient.”

All of the networks have geared up to cover the speech and the Republican response sending teams of anchors and reporters to Washington to stalk the chamber hall. The relentless media attention will become all encompassing tonight as tens of millions of voters will watch across several networks. But few doubt that the president can change a preponderance of hearts and minds with one speech.

“People are tuned in. They are engaged,” adds Gregory. “And the problem is they are looking at Washington and saying, well that’s not what we had in mind. That’s not government working. And Obama’s campaign was [about] making government more responsive, making government work again. He’s got big challenges.”