"He's not Bubba," a senior House Republican aide said. "And he's not going to be running against a Member of Congress. Oh, and the unemployment rate is over 8 percent. This year is going to be a referendum on his job on the economy."
A senior Senate Republican aide said Obama is playing on GOP rhetorical turf when he talks about controlling spending, cutting taxes and increasing energy production.
"You can't out-Republican a Republican," the aide said. "You can't out-energy a Republican, and you can't out-tax-cut a Republican."
The Senate aide predicted voters would see through the rhetoric because of issues such as Keystone and will want the real thing in November: "You can't say one day you are for an 'all-of-the-above' energy plan and then go against a project the unions want the next."
The aide doesn't expect much in the way of real cooperation with Republicans on spending, taxes, regulations or energy.
The aide said all of the talk from the White House about wanting to work with Congress would be just that: talk.
"They've given up on Congress, not just Republicans," the aide said. "They don't want Congress to do anything because it doesn't work with their message."
A senior Senate Democratic aide predicted the president will try to establish that it is reasonable to look at bipartisan ideas by spotlighting issues Republicans have previously supported, including ones that have strong support from the business community — such as infrastructure projects and tax breaks for small businesses.
"Kill them with reasonability," the aide said.
Another Senate aide said that alongside moderate and Republican-leaning proposals, Obama can then draw contrasts with the GOP on issues of economic fairness, like with the "Buffett Rule" that millionaires should pay a tax rate similar to that paid by the middle class.
Jim Manley, a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and director at QGA Public Affairs, said the strategy puts Republicans on the defensive.
"It's a skillful way to try and co-opt the debate and take it right back at the Republicans," he said.
Manley said initiatives such as consolidation authority should enjoy Republican support but probably won't. "The reality is that they are so determined to defeat him they're not going to go for it. ... It's a good way to call them out," Manley said.