WASHINGTON, D.C.: "This is one of the last great rituals of the Republic," reports TIME's White House correspondent J.F.O. McAllister on the eve of President Clinton's fifth State of the Union Address. "People really do gather 'round the television and listen to the President detail his plans for the country." McAllister says Clinton will try to equal the success of last year's address, delivered amid a series of government shutdowns, which immediately turned the tables on Congressional Republicans. Clinton's declaration then that "the era of big government is over" became his most memorable line, while then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole effectively nipped his own campaign in the bud with his infamous "Darth Vader" response. But the President also is striving to avoid a repeat of his second Inaugural, which was received by both press and public with a chorus of indifferent grunts. "This is a very different kind of speech," notes McAllister. "It has been said that the Inaugural is the poetry; the State of the Union is the prose." Part of the State of the Union ritual requires the President to present something new, and that element remains a mystery. But McAllister suggests that Clinton may follow up on the anti-gang violence theme broached in a recent radio address with a new initiative. Otherwise, the President will probably repeat his plea that despite progress on many economic and social issues, more remains to be done. One thing viewers can count on, says McAllister, is that Clinton's speech will be fairly long. Pundits jibed the President for the length of his address last year, but McAllister says focus groups show that people who watched the whole speech actually liked it. Of course, that may mean that those who didnít like the speech had long since switched channels.