WASHINGTON — Standing before a nation clamoring for jobs, President Barack Obama will call for targeted spending to boost the economy but also for budget cutting in tonight’s State of the Union address, his first in a new era of divided political power.

To a television audience in the tens of millions, Obama will home in on jobs, the issue of most importance to the public and to his hopes for a second term. Though war and other concerns bid for attention, the president has chosen to lean heavily on the economy, with far less emphasis on Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism and foreign affairs.

Specifically, Obama will focus on improving the education, innovation and infrastructure of the United States as the way to provide a sounder economic base. He will pair that with calls to reduce the government’s debt – now topping a staggering $14 trillion – and reforming government. Those five areas will frame the speech, with sprinklings of fresh proposals.

Yet no matter how ambitious Obama’s rhetorical reach, his speech at the halfway point of his term will be viewed in the context of his new political reality.

The midterm elections gave Republicans control of the House and a stronger minority vote in the Senate, meaning he doesn’t have the option of pushing through changes over strong GOP objections. The contrast between the two parties’ visions remains stark, and the debate about where to slash spending, and by how much, will drive much of the debate for the rest of 2011.

As if to underscore that point, Obama’s speech will come just hours after the House is to vote on setting spending for the rest of the year at 2008, pre-recession levels. That resolution, largely symbolic, would put Republican lawmakers on record as in favor of cutting $100 billion from Obama’s budget for the current year as the party promised in last year’s campaign.

The atmospherics of the State of the Union, always watched with some fascination as a display of political theater, are expected to be more sober and civil than in recent years.

The speech comes less than three weeks after an assassination attempt against Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. She is recovering remarkably after being shot in the head during a one-man rampage that left six dead.

In an attempt at unity following an attack on one of their own, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers will sit together at Obama’s speech. Others have dismissed that idea as superficial. The focus on tone comes a year after Obama’s rebuke of a Supreme Court decision in his State of the Union speech led Justice Samuel Alito to mouth back, “Not true.”

Obama is trying to emphasize economic priorities that can draw both public appeal and enough Republican consideration for at least serious debate.

He will wrap them all under the heading of helping the United States to compete more successfully in the world — a “win the future” rallying cry that Obama’s aides hope will resonate with both workers and business executives and bind the political parties.