South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will deliver the Republican Party’s official response to the State of the Union on January 12, a major test for someone considered to be a potential nominee for vice president.
Haley will get a prime-time national platform to offer a contrast not only with President Barack Obama’s agenda for his final year in office, but also with Democrats seeking to succeed him in November’s election.
“This is a time of great challenges for our country, but also of great opportunities. I intend to speak about both,” Haley said Tuesday in a statement.
The popular governor, whose parents emigrated from India, is the youngest chief executive running a state. And she offers the GOP an opportunity to reach out to women at a time when the nasty presidential contest has featured debate that many party leaders are worried could turn off female voters.
“In a year when the country is crying out for a positive vision and alternative to the status quo, Gov. Haley is the exact right choice to deliver the Republican address to the nation,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement on Tuesday.
Haley’s South Carolina is both home to one of the early and critical primary contests and was a focal point this summer as protests rose over the Confederate flag. The governor rose to prominence when she helped take down the Confederate flag from the state’s capitol grounds in Columbia. She also received bipartisan praise for her handling of the tragic mass shooting at a church in Charleston killing nine last June.
Haley, who is Indian-American, has long been seen as a rising star in the GOP eager to promote women of color. The speaking engagement following the president has bedeviled many other fresh faces in the GOP, however, and could pose a challenge to Haley as well.
Including Haley, Republican women have delivered the last three GOP responses – Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa spoke in 2015 and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington did so in 2014.
Ryan gave the address back in 2011, the year the GOP regained control of the House of Representatives.
But those selected by party leaders to give the nationally televised speech haven’t always gained political benefits from the spotlight.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now running for president, delivered the response in 2013. Many viewed his selection as an effort to broaden the party’s appeal after the 2012 election saw a significant drop in support from women and Hispanic voters. But Rubio’s speech was most remembered for his awkward pause in the speech when he lunged for a bottle of water.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who dropped out of the 2016 presidential contest in November, delivered the response after Obama’s first joint address to Congress in 2009, but his speech was mostly panned. Then-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell delivered the 2010 response from the statehouse in Richmond with an audience in the room listening to him. But the once-promising politician was later indicted by federal prosecutors for taking gifts from political supporters. After conviction he’s now facing prison time.