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Second-term presidents delivering their sixth State of the Union addresses take a variety of approaches: wonkiness, bragging about their accomplishments, distancing themselves from scandals, joking at their own expenses and/or commemorating American heroes.
“The intermediate ballistic missiles, Thor and Jupiter, have already been ordered into production,” Dwight D. Eisenhower told the 85th Congress on Jan. 9, 1958.
“One year of Watergate is enough,” Richard Nixon declared to the 93rd Congress on Jan. 30, 1974.
“We paused together to mourn and honor the valor of our seven Challenger heroes,” Ronald Reagan said before the 99th Congress on Feb. 4, 1986, just days after the space shuttle disaster rocked the nation.
“I will submit to Congress for 1999 the first balanced budget in 30 years,” Bill Clinton told the 105th Congress on Jan. 27, 1998.
“This year, the first of about 78 million baby boomers turn 60, including two of my dad’s favorite people — me and President Clinton. This milestone is more than a personal crisis. It is a national challenge,” George W. Bush told the 109th Congress on Jan. 31, 2006.
Whether the State of the Union address has any effect on voters’ mood is debatable, but one thing is clear: Almost without exception, the president’s political party takes a beating later on in the year.
Since the end of World War II, six men have been re-elected president and have delivered a State of the Union less than two years later, at the beginning of the next congressional election year.
With the exception of just one of those chief executives, Clinton, the voters were not kind to the president’s party in the midterms.
Eisenhower, the war hero who presided over a massive expansion of the U.S. economy in the 1950s, saw his fellow Republicans, already in the minority at the start of the 85th Congress, slip further nearly into oblivion in both chambers. After the 1956 elections, Democrats held a 232-203 majority in the House and a 49-47 edge in the Senate. In the 1958 election, 10 months after Ike’s address, the Democrats won 283 House seats to the GOP’s 151 and pushed their Senate majority to the stratospheric level of 65 seats. Americans might have still liked Ike, but they had no such love for his party.