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Obama's Big Speech: Economy in Focus for State of the Union

While the centerpiece of Obama's address is expected to be his domestic agenda, the president sees a chance to outline the next steps in bringing the protracted war in Afghanistan to an end. He's facing two pressing decisions: the size and scope of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after the war formally ends late next year, and the next phase of the troop drawdown this year.

More than 60,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.

The president could update the public on cuts to the number of U.S. nuclear weapons, a priority for his administration. Vice President Joe Biden recently told a security conference in Germany that Obama probably would use the State of the Union to discuss "advancing a comprehensive nuclear agenda to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, reduce global stockpiles and secure nuclear materials."

White House allies are nudging Obama's team to move forward on a plan to expand education for children before they enter kindergarten. They are reminding Obama's political aides that female voters gave the president a second term, serving up a 10-point gender gap.

Obama carried 55% of female voters, many of whom are looking to the White House for their reward. While groups such as Latinos and gays have seen policy initiatives since Election Day, women's groups have not received the same kinds of rollouts.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising Republican star and potential 2016 presidential candidate, will deliver the GOP response following Obama's address to Congress.

The president will follow up his speech with trips across the country to promote his calls for job creation. Stops are planned Wednesday in Asheville, N.C., and Thursday in Atlanta.

Obama's speechwriters started working on the speech shortly after the Nov. 6 election. The process is being led for the first time by Cody Keenan, who is taking over as the president's chief speechwriter.

Associated Press writers Philip Elliott, Robert Burns and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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