Republicans predict ‘bright future’ for star of Obama SOTU rebuttal

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s State of the Union response is drawing rave reviews from her fellow Republicans and renewing talk that she could be a vice presidential candidate in 2016.

GOP strategists and lawmakers said McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) proved that she is up to the task of being a national spokeswoman for a party that is looking for female voices to help close the gender gap with Democrats.

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“She’s one of our best messengers,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a self-professed “fan” of the five-term lawmaker. “She’s an attractive and able spokesperson.”

“Just look at the political skills, how far she’s come,” Cole added. “It’s hard not to see a very bright future.”

Now the No. 4 Republican in the House, McMorris Rodgers pitched the “hopeful vision” of the Republican Party on Tuesday night and tied it to her own experiences as a mother of three.

“The chance to go from my Washington to this one was unexpected,” she said in the address. “I came to Congress to help empower people, not politicians; to grow the working middle class, not the government; and to ensure that everyone in this country can find a job.”

Most importantly for her future political prospects, she avoided the rebuttal curse that has struck other Republicans who dared to take the stage after the pageantry of President Obama’s address to Congress.

“She certainly did an excellent job in her response, which is something that a number of alleged presidential contenders cannot say,” said one former GOP leadership aide. “The State of the Union response platform has been more of a trapdoor than a springboard for future political success.”

Still, strategists and lawmakers alike cautioned not to read too much into a speech that was notable as much for its lack of missteps than anything else.

“This is one of those moments where not disqualifying yourself for whatever might come next is a huge victory,” another Republican strategist said.

GOP lawmakers and strategists say the congresswoman has been keeping her ambitions close to the vest, but they said the performance has earned her a more prominent place among Republicans.

“It’s an open question about where this might bring her to,” one strategist said. “What we do know is that it’s a good thing for the Republican Party.”

The speech is stirring speculation that the congresswoman could be vice presidential material in 2016. She was a dark horse for the No. 2 slot in 2012, and was given a high-profile role as Mitt Romney’s liaison to the House GOP.

Some Republicans have suggested that McMorris Rodgers could be the GOP’s best chance to wrest away a top statewide office in her blue state of Washington.

Others say she could easily continue her ascent up the House leadership ladder.

She already has some powerful allies in Congress.

In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders quietly backed McMorris Rodgers’s campaign to become conference chairwoman over Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a stalwart conservative.

McMorris Rodgers could easily face another challenge from the right if a higher-ranking post becomes available, but Republicans said Tuesday’s speech burnishes her case for an expanded role.

“This could help her as she continues to try and move up the ranks within the House GOP leadership,” the former aide said. “As the highest-ranking female Republican in leadership, in a conference that desperately needs more female faces, she can continue to build a profile.”

The congresswoman has shown an ambitious streak during her political career. An aide close to her said that she immediately grabbed the chance to give the GOP’s response to the president, even though she was surprised by the offer.

The congresswoman, the aide added, recognizes that her profile as a Republican woman and mother is appealing on the national stage. But the staffer stressed that McMorris Rodgers has never floated her name as potential vice presidential candidate.

McMorris Rodgers also made a conscious choice to try to avoid some of the missteps that hurt previous GOP hopefuls who struggled with their party rebuttals, like the now-indicted former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell.

In one of her early speechwriting meetings, McMorris Rodgers laid out three goals for the speech: put forward a positive alternative to the president’s plans, hit a memorable moment and don’t make any mistakes. On top of that, she got a tip from Boehner: Don’t overthink it. That approach served her well, GOP lawmakers said.

“Certainly, more of the American people have now met Cathy McMorris Rodgers,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) said.

But Price, whom McMorris Rodgers defeated for the conference chairmanship slot, said it would be easy to overstate the momentum Tuesday’s speech could bring.

“It’s a one-day story. I don’t know if it leads to anything else or not,” the Georgia Republican said. “If it does, it’d be wonderful.”