The Curse of the State of the Union Response

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Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst will give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union next week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday.

The Iowa senator, who won a closely watched race in November, is the first woman to represent Iowa in either chamber in Congress.

“She is a perfect choice,” McConnell said. “Americans voted for change and Senator Ernst will explain what the new Congress will do and what it is already doing to return Washington’s focus to the concerns of the middle class and away from the demands of the political class.”

The assignment is not an easy one. The State of the Union carries with it all of the pageantry of the imperial presidency, making the response often seem lackluster by comparison.

Since the tradition started in 1966, the response has varied in format, with the speaker sometimes talking to a small group, alone in front of a camera, in a more informal setting or even at a governor’s mansion.

Ernst said she was “humbled and honored” to give the response.

“It is a long way from Red Oak to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Growing up on a southwest Iowa farm years ago, I never, never would have imagined that I would have this opportunity.”

— With Alex Rogers

Jim Wright State of the Union
House Speaker Jim Wright gave the response to George H.W. Bush in 1989. He resigned later that year after an ethics scandal. Terry Ashe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Bob Michel State of the Union
Rep. Bob Michel gave the response to Bill Clinton in 1993. Facing fights with other Republicans, he declined to run for re-election the next year. Terry Ashe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Bob Dole State of the Union Response
Sen. Bob Dole gave the response to Clinton in 1996. Later that year, he ran against Clinton and lost. Charlie Neibergall—AP
Dick Gephardt State of the Union
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (shown on TV) gave the response to George W. Bush in 2002. After Democrats lost seats that fall, he stepped down from leadership. Scott J. Ferrell—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
Kathleen Sebelius State of the Union
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius gave the response to Bush in 2008. The next year, she became Secretary Health and Human Services, where she oversaw the disastrous launch of AP
Bobby Jindal State of the Union
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave the response to Barack Obama in 2009. It was poorly received, setting back his national prospects.AP
Bob McDonnell State of the Union
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell gave the response to Obama in 2010. He was recently sentenced to two years in prison in a corruption case. Steve Helber—AP
Michele Bachmann State of the Union
Rep. Michele Bachmann gave the unofficial tea party response to Obama in 2011. The next year, she came in last in the Iowa presidential caucuses. AP
Paul Ryan State of the Union
Rep. Paul Ryan gave the official response to Obama in 2011. The following year, he ran for vice president and lost. AP
Marco Rubio State of the Union
Sen. Marco Rubio gave the response to Obama in 2013. His awkward drink of water midway through was much ridiculed. AP

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