Updated at 9:30 a.m. on January 21.
It's one of the most treasured spotlights -- and one of the most thankless tasks -- in American politics. For one night this year, a Republican will become the face of the party and offer a response to the president of the United States after he delivers the State of the Union address.
The spotlight is intense; despite the fact that the response gets a far smaller audience than the president's address, it's still watched by everyone in Washington, and by millions more around the country. It can highlight a rising star in the GOP, like last year's address in which Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell shone. Or it can be easily mocked for one outstanding feature; think of the parodies of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's performance, or of then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's seemingly independent eyebrow.
The honor comes with a requirement not unlike the Hippocratic oath: Above all, just don't screw up.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who have the final say in the matter, are not going to pick themselves. But they have made the pick, and, a spokesman joked to us on Thursday, they will announce their choice on a day that ends in "y." Thanks for narrowing it down, guys. After winning big in 2010, they have no shortage of rising stars and well-established talent from which to choose. Here are our favorites for the job, and the odds each might be tapped to give the address:
- Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., odds 3-1: Rubio is young, well-spoken and attractive to the conservative base. Most importantly, he's Hispanic, and in a year in which the GOP is bragging about its newfound diversity, that fact is no small consideration. McConnell has outsized influence in the selection process, and no Republican senator has given the response since Susan Collins and Bill Frist in 2000. But Rubio is playing his initial months in Washington under the radar, and responding to the State of the Union is certainly not an under-the-radar job. If asked, he might just decline the opportunity. Update: Rubio's not the one. His spokesman said the freshman will not give the address.
- Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., odds 6-1: Ayotte has already given a response to President Obama's weekly radio address, and she got good reviews when she did. She's a pragmatic conservative, attractive to both the tea party base and the establishment, as evidenced by her win in a contentious New Hampshire primary. And, like Rubio, she's evidence that the GOP is no longer just the party of old white males.
- New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, odds 5-1: Last year, the Republican Governors Association worked behind the scenes to make sure she won her primary. Her victory in November gave the GOP a Hispanic woman who based her entire campaign on cutting spending. That checks three very important visual and ideological boxes. But how well is she known, or regarded, in Boehner's and McConnell's offices?
- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, odds 5-1: Like Martinez, Haley is articulate and represents diversity within the party. Like Martinez, she spent her whole campaign talking about cutting government spending. Like Martinez, Haley got quiet, behind-the-scenes help from the national party in her contentious primary. Haley is even better known than Martinez, having graced the cover of Newsweek. The only drawback we can think of is that tapping a South Carolinian doesn't exactly scream regional diversity. But that's a pretty tiny drawback. Still, we're told Haley has not been asked to give the address, and -- given that the speech would come on Tuesday -- it's highly likely that the person who will give the address has been asked already. Update: Haley is out. A source in Haley's office says she hasn't been asked.
- Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, odds 8-1: Martinez and Haley have had their turns in the spotlight. Oddly, Sandoval hasn't, though he shares many of the same traits and probably deserves the same star treatment. The Mountain West provides Republicans with pickup and growth opportunities, so tapping a Silver Stater isn't a bad idea. And the GOP has never had any Hispanic person deliver the response, making Sandoval an automatic short-lister if that becomes a consideration.
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, odds 10-1: Just after the 2009 gubernatorial elections, Bob McDonnell was seen as the next GOP superstar, while Christie was a bit overlooked. Then Christie actually started governing, and he became the next big thing. Christie has taken on government waste, unpopular unions, and a deeply unpopular legislature, and he's the model other new governors hope to emulate. But the biggest factor working against him is that he's a white male. In an earlier time, Christie might have been the obvious choice. Now, he's a longer shot.
- Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., odds 10-1: Few people talk about the budget and the need for spending cuts more articulately than Ryan does. He gets the right message across, and he's a big deal among tea party activists. What's more, Republicans will use a House vote on Tuesday to spotlight his work on the Budget Committee, making this an ideal time to raise Ryan's profile. But he's got the Chris Christie problem in that he doesn't send the ideal message about diversity within the GOP.
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