Squeezed into a loud bar, feebly attempting to out-duel Cienna with live-Slog witticisms, it was hard to get a good feel for President Obama's State of the Union speech last night. But US Representative Jim McDermott (D-The Part of Seattle I Don't Live In), sitting (and often standing) in the House chamber, got a firsthand look at the president in battle mode, and he came away quite impressed.

"Obama was a monster tonight," McDermott told me by phone about an hour after the speech. "By far and away, this was the best speech I've ever heard him give." Really.

No doubt McDermott is as partisan as they come, and he can be prone to fits of enthusiasm, but this was about as bubbly and effusive as I've ever heard him. Throughout the interview, McDermott literally giggled with delight at the thought of taking on Mitt Romney as the nominee, let alone his old foe Newt Gingrich. "They're trying not look scared," McDermott said of his Republican colleagues, "but they're looking at an unmitigated disaster."

By challenging congress to act on a series of popular, economically populist policy initiatives, McDermott says Obama has put the Republican leadership between a rock (the Tea Party Caucus) and hard place (Nancy Pelosi). "He's like the captain of the Costa Concordia," says McDermott of Speaker John Boehner: "He can either steer clear of the rocks, or stay on course and watch his ship roll over on its side."

As for the specifics of Obama's proposals, McDermott could have personally done without the stuff about off-shore drilling, but was philosophical about the president's need to appeal to the nation as a whole. "Some proposals I like, and some are not at the top of my list," McDermott admits.

"But I think the middle class loved that speech," says McDermott. And it's the middle class, after all, who is going to determine the outcome of this election.