Joni Ernst to brave State of the Union rebuttal

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Washington (CNN)It's the hardest act in town to follow: the leader of the free world, framed by his Vice President and the Speaker of the House, delivering what is usually a fairly rousing address to both houses of Congress.

Joni Ernst, the Republican Party's latest rising star in the Senate, will do just that Tuesday, tapped by the GOP to deliver the rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union address.
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She'll likely sit or stand, alone, facing a camera, countering the President's policy proposals and implicitly -- or pretty openly -- reminding Americans that partisanship is alive and well.
Throw in the fact that fewer Americans watch the State of the Union -- and even fewer the opposition party's response -- and 10 minutes of uninterrupted national TV time doesn't seem so glossy anymore, especially when so much has gone wrong in recent years.
    "It's almost like the kiss of death to get picked to do the Republican response," said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It represents an amazing opportunity to catapult yourself into the national conversation, but the risk is huge and the success rate has been minimal at best in recent years."
    Republicans couldn't have been more excited to spotlight their Indian-American wunderkind Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's governor, in response to the first black President's address to a joint session of Congress. But all party bigwigs and critics alike were talking about the next day was Jindal's awkward delivery, not his prospects for higher office -- and certainly not GOP diversity.
    It was a moment reminiscent of then-Gov. Tim Kaine's (D-Virginia) 2006 response, when he was outdone by his own eyebrows.
    And then a parched Marco Rubio took a not-so-subtle sip of water, eyes still piercing into the camera. Forget that he had delivered the first-ever bilingual rebuttal, drowned out by Rubio and his infamous water bottle.
    Rubio quickly bounced back from that moment, raising more than $100,000 through his PAC by selling "RUBIO" branded water bottles. And his political fortunes are still fairly intact.
    And superstitious politicos beware.
    Virigina Gov. Bob McDonnell gave a rousing response straight from the Virginia state legislature in 2010. Five years later, and he's about to start a two-year stint in federal prison over corruption charges.
    Even last year's speaker, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was accused by a former staffer of ethics violations, though that investigation died out pretty quickly.
    "You almost want to tell an aspiring politician that if the phone call comes, don't answer. Stay away because the chances of you catching lighting in a bottle are pretty slim," said Robert Dion, a political science professor at the University of Evansville.
    But Ernst took the call, and as the party's standard bearer on Tuesday, she'll have an especially tough job.
    Just two weeks into the new Republican majority, she'll be tasked with undercutting the President's message while also showing that her party is ready to govern, not just be a thorn in Obama's side -- a dicey balance of tone and substance.
    But she was picked because she's well positioned to deliver that message.
    A freshman senator hot off a victory in the key battleground state of Iowa, Ernst is emblematic of the Republican wave that wrangled control of the Senate from Democrats in November and the mandate they hope to use to govern. A mandate they'll also want to wave in front of President's nose as they go head to head in policy battles.
    Plus, as a female Iowan, Ernst can send a powerful message to voters about the party that is likely to go head to head with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- much of that fight will play out in the key state of Iowa.
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    Plus, she's the Senate's first female combat veteran, embodying the GOP's forceful foreign policy amid global turmoil and the threat of ISIS.
    Ernst won't be the only Republican reacting to the President's speech, though. Prominent Republicans and 2016 hopefuls will flock to TV studios to slam the President and offer a different direction. And they'll be doing it on Twitter and Facebook too.
    "The party doesn't have a monopoly on the response to the state of the union address like they did 30 years ago when people only had a couple of choices where to get their information or certainly television coverage for the State of the Union," said Danny Hayes, a political science professor at George Washington University.
    Sen. Rand Paul, who is eyeing a 2016 run, gave his own response to the President's address last year through a nearly 10-minute video on YouTube.
    And the Tea Party Express has tapped its own conservative firebrand to deliver a rebuttal for the last four years, starting with then-Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who stared into the wrong camera throughout the live broadcast carried on CNN.
    That response has fueled the discussion over a fragmented Republican Party, and though Ernst was endorsed by tea party leaders during her Senate campaign, the Tea Party Express will broadcast its own rebuttal.
    Rep. Curt Clawson, a Republican from Florida who voted for Sen. Rand Paul as speaker of the House, will deliver the group's official response through a live stream.