The Republican response to the State of the Union: Boon or bane?

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 30: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (FL) speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate during the RNC which will conclude today.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Depending on how you look at it, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been given either one of the most coveted speaking opportunities of the year or one of the most dangerous.

Just minutes after President Obama concludes his State of the Union address tonight, the first-term senator and potential presidential candidate will deliver the official Republican response. It will be an opportunity for Rubio to both rebut the president's message and bolster his already soaring national profile.

"The audience is the entire country. It's perhaps the biggest audience you'll ever get a chance to speak to," Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., told CBS News. In 2010, McDonnell delivered the GOP response less than two weeks after taking office, an experience he called "humbling."

But the speaking slot comes with some inherent pitfalls. For starters, while the president is likely to speak for nearly an hour, Rubio will get roughly 10 minutes. And then there are the visuals. The president will address the nation from podium of the House of Representatives. His speech will be punctuated by applause and standing ovations. Rubio will be alone, speaking directly to a camera.

McDonnell, who delivered his response from the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates, said it is important not to try to compete with the theater of the State of the Union.

"You've got to start by realizing that you've got to really focus on the message," McDonnell said. "Sometimes you can try too hard. We were worried about that when I first got invited. You feel like the whole burden of carrying the Republican cause rests on your shoulders."

Just ask Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La. He delivered the response to Mr. Obama's first address to a Joint Session of Congress in 2009. The speech was widely panned as hokey and stilted. In the time since, Jindal has worked hard to rehabilitate his image.

"To use a sports metaphor, you have Hall of Fame receivers drop a pass and Hall of Fame baseball hitters swing and miss," Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, pointed out. "That was not the best delivery that a brilliant leader like Bobby Jindal can give."

  • Caroline Horn On Twitter»

    Caroline Horn is CBS News' senior producer for politics.