WASHINGTON – Republican leaders Tuesday night denounced President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address as a campaign stunt, saying Obama put his push for 2012 re-election ahead of the country’s more pressing issues.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., gave the official Republican response to the address following Obama’s remarks. Daniels, a GOP favorite who’s been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential nominee, blamed the president’s “extremism” for dividing the country.

“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others,” he said.

Obama pitted himself against a so-called “do-nothing Congress” in his address, setting the stage for a contentious campaign season in the coming months.

Republican congressmen blasted the president for making empty promises, saying they have hampered the economy instead of helping it.

“If you close your eyes and you ignore the reality then it sounds great, but where are the realities,” said Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La. “For two years we’ve had a president say one thing and produce bills that have said another.”

GOP criticism of the speech is part of a broader effort this year to paint the president as a campaigner – not a commander-in-chief – as he seeks a second term in office. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote in a POLITICO op-ed Tuesday that Obama’s quest to save his own job is preventing him from focusing on protecting those of other Americans.

“The Obama White House and the Obama campaign have become almost indistinguishable,” Priebus said. “The congressional podium is not a campaign stump.”

Missing from the House floor Tuesday night was Rep. Doug Lamborn R-Colo., who boycotted the high-profile event because he “does not support the policies of Barack Obama,” his office said.

Lamborn was specifically protesting the president’s recent recess appointments and cuts to defense spending.

The anti-campaigning jabs at Obama come only a week after Republican leaders condemned the president for rejecting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. GOP leaders said approval of the oil project could immediately create thousands of jobs.

This is a direct indication of what is to come in the 2012 election season, said Jonathan Ladd, associate professor of government at Georgetown University.

“This debate about the strength of the economy will be the central dispute between Obama and the Republican nominee this fall,” he said.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney agreed with his congressional counterparts Tuesday, giving a “pre-buttal” criticizing Obama’s address before it was given.

“Make no mistake: What [Obama]’s really offering are partisan planks for his re-election campaign,” Romney said in Florida. “We’ll also be treated to more divisive rhetoric from a desperate campaigner-in-chief.”