Four Things to Watch For During the State of the Union

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The response to the State of the Union is one of the toughest gigs in politics (just ask Bobby Jindal after his flop in 2009). But the GOP has tapped one of its brightest to respond to Obama: Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)

A Rubio aide said that "the emphasis of [Rubio's] address is the Republican Party's agenda for economic growth and helping people climb into the middle class," and how that's different than the president's agenda. The aide also said that Rubio would touch on the immigration issue, but that it would not be a main focus of the speech. Rubio is writing the speech himself, according to the aide.

Rubio is widely expected to be a top contender for the presidency in 2016, and he's a key member of the bipartisan Senate "Gang of Eight" crafting an immigration-reform bill. The Cuban-American senator will also be the first Republican to deliver a State of the Union response in English and Spanish. It comes at a time when the GOP is trying to find a way to better reach Latino voters, who voted in droves for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Underscoring the stakes of Rubio's speech, Democrats on Monday "responded" to Rubio even before he delivered his remarks, saying that the senator would deliver more of the same.

"They don't think there is anything wrong with their policies. They think they just need to package them better," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said of Republicans on a conference call with reporters.

It's safe to say there is a lot riding on Rubio's response to the president. A poor performance wouldn't sink his presidential stock (again, ask Jindal, who is also receiving presidential buzz) but it would not help it either. Yet, a strong performance could solidify his reputation as the GOP's foremost communicator. Either way, this is one of Rubio's biggest moments in the spotlight to date.

4. Who's In the Crowd?

Lawmakers and the president often make a political statement with the guests they choose to invite to the State of the Union, and this year is no different.

Among First Lady Michelle Obama's guests is Alan Aleman, a Las Vegas college student who was granted a temporary reprieve from deportation under President Obama's deferred action program. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is bringing Gabino Sanchez, a South Carolina undocumented immigrant who is fighting deportation.

House Democrats are also organizing an effort to invite victims of gun violence and their families at a time when Congress is considering gun-control measures. Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro will bring along Carlos Soto, the brother of teacher Vicki Soto, a victim of the Newtown shooting, ABC News reported last week.

Also in attendance will be Cleopatra Cowley. She is the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago student who was murdered only days after performing with her high school band during Obama's inaugural parade.

Republicans aren't looking to be outdone. Texas Rep. Steve Stockman has invited rock musician Ted Nugent, a vocal and controversial opponent of Obama, Politico reported. Stockman himself raised eyebrows last month by raising the specter of impeaching the president if he chooses to enact gun-control measures via executive order.

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