Make no mistake about it: this was a confident if not defiant President tonight. He was on message tonight listing a number of accomplishments from energy production, to increased graduation rates, to health care expansion, and 8 million new jobs, among others. He called on the better angels of this Congress to join him in making more progress and invited them to join him on other initiatives, including a number of small incremental proposals to free trade, enhance patent processing, enable entrepreneurs, and encourage investment in domestic job growth. “Let’s make progress together.” “Are we going to help or hinder progress?”

While he mainly focused on working together with Congress he also warned the very unpopular body that “America does not stand still and neither will I.” He will use his power to issue executive orders where and when he sees fit. After all, he has used this power 187 times already. But contrary to what we were all led to believe before the speech, he didn’t dwell on this.

He didn’t have a hammer in his hand. Instead, his speech was remarkably strategic. The GOP had a huge victory in 2010 by rejecting a very unpopular health care law. With the law not yet in effect by those elections, the anger of those who feared government overreach outweighed the support of those who had not yet benefited from any program. But this time around, the President was able to use actual numbers and anecdotes to illustrate that millions of Americans are already benefiting. The GOP is holding fast to the argument that more Americans will suffer from Obamacare but, for now, the President is on target.

The President is also not on the ropes. A new Zogby Analytics poll taken before the speech has the President’s job approval at 45% with disapproval at 52%. These are not good numbers but they also are not terrible. The President’s speech was first and foremost aimed at shoring up his base. He needs to improve his rating among young voters (51% approve), women (42%), African Americans (79%), and Hispanics (66%). Mr. Obama knows that the turnout model for 2014 needs to at least be somewhere in between the low turnout of his key demographic groups in 2010 and the higher turnouts of 2008 and 2012 that propelled him to victory.

But the President was also reaching out to independents where his approval is low (31%) and moderates where he is lower than he should be (51%). These are groups that put a special emphasis on results, not ideology. Samuel Popkin’s influential 1994 book The Reasoned Voter explained that voters are much more rational in making their decisions than we often give them credit for being. He wrote that voters really only want answers to two questions before they cast their vote: What have you done for me lately? And what will you do for me next? In 2010, with a disillusioned Democratic base and an angry tea party, “No” was a winning strategy for the GOP. That is not really likely to propel Republicans to victory in 2014. For one, the anger we saw in 2010 seems to have dissipated. In this week’s Zogby Analytics poll, only 10% said that things were “okay” regarding government and politics. And another 25% said they were either “bitter” or “mad as hell and not going to take it any more.” Most importantly, 61% said that “significant improvement is needed.” Critical mass seems to be on the side of problem-solving and action – not on simple rejectionism and obstructionism.

The President used the opportunity to list his accomplishments. He threw down the gauntlet to the GOP. This speech was neither a “Hail, Mary” nor a declaration of war. It was a call to join forces and it puts the GOP on the spot.