President Barack Obama challenged Republicans last night to adopt limited spending cuts and invest in new research and education to generate a job-creating “Sputnik moment” for America in a speech designed to revitalize his leadership.

Obama, seeking to assure Americans weary of stubbornly high 9.4 percent unemployment and fearful of rising debt, laid out his plan to reinvigorate economic growth in a State of the Union address at 9 p.m.

At the midpoint of his four-year term and now preparing for his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama sought to strike a centrist tone, saying that what’s at stake is “not who wins the next election.”

“At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded,” he said.

Obama proposed a five-year freeze on domestic spending that he said would reduce the budget deficit by $400 billion over a decade. The freeze would not apply to big entitlement programs — such as Social Security and Medicare — at the heart of America’s deficit problem.

Obama insisted the country needs to increase its investment in research and education to achieve a “Sputnik moment” — akin to the space race unleashed when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The aim would be to trigger a wave of innovation and create jobs at home.

“The Democratic president said to cut spending, as Republicans want, in research and education would be “like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.”