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“It would be wise for him to try to get ahead of the curve and lay out some spending cuts in his State of the Union address and try to get the center back and try to co-opt the Republican message,” he said.

For all the talk of congressional maneuvering, Mr. Obama’s first two years also were defined a series of non-legislative events, including his decision to boost U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and botched attempted terrorist attacks on board an airplane and in Times Square.

This summer, the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico dominated his time and the news. Mr. Obama took several trips to the region to oversee cleanup operations and to show the public that his administration was dealing with the disaster.

The oil spill hurt Mr. Obama’s popularity, however, and lawmakers in the region have blamed tens of thousands of lost jobs on his subsequent moratorium on offshore drilling.

One area where the White House has touted success is Mr. Obama’s achievements on transparency and the ongoing implementation of his call for government agencies to be more open. As part of a settlement with a watchdog group, the White House now posts visitor logs online, for example, and the administration is more frequently keeping his pledge to post legislation on its website for five days before Mr. Obama signs it into law.

However, some transparency advocates say the administration should be doing a better job to live up to the spirit of its transparency reforms, by being more responsive to information requests at the Justice Department in particular, and ensuring that information released under the open-government initiative is truly meaningful.

c Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.