President Joe Biden is scheduled to give the annual State of the Union (SOTU) address on Thursday evening, but many Alabamians are more eager to hear what U.S. Sen. Katie Britt (R-Montgomery) will say in the official Republican response.

With Biden and former President Donald Trump expected to run a rematch of the 2020 election this November, Britt's speech could help set the tone of the race for Republicans moving forward, with some calling it her "big audition night" to distinguish herself as a candidate for Trump's vice president pick.

It's the first time a second-year freshman U.S. Senator has been called on to give the Republican response to the President's State of the Union speech.

It's the first time the youngest Republican woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate has been called on.

We cannot find where an Alabamian has been designated as the Republican "first responder" to the SOTU speech. Dr. Google couldn't find one.

Biden is scheduled to deliver the address at 8 p.m., followed immediately by Britt's response, "The gentlewoman from Alabama," at 42 years old.

This year's SOTU is as important as any for political and governmental reasons.

A sitting president versus a former president. It last happened in 1912. Both the sitting president (Taft, R-Ohio) and the former president (Teddy Roosevelt, R-NY) lost. But it was different. The former president was running third-party, the Bull Moose candidate. New Jersey Democrat Governor Woodrow Wilson took advantage of the split and won.

Thursday night's SOTU speech is eight months before the November 5 presidential election.

In some election cycles, the effective kickoff of the fall presidential campaign is at the two party conventions, where a nominee is formalized and makes an acceptance speech. Those two acceptance speeches are often the keynotes.

In other cycles, the effective kickoff is Labor Day speeches by the two candidates.

This year, it appears things will be different. We know who the two candidates are. This is early. The party conventions will be anti-climactic.

The campaign will be well underway during the nominees' acceptance speeches and the traditional Labor Day speeches. The issues, the contrasts and the platforms will be outlined already starting March 7 with the SOTU and the response.

When political Monday morning quarterbacks look back on the already unusual 2024 presidential campaign, they could easily analyze it this way: The campaign started, and issues began to be joined on March 7, 2024, with the State of the Union speech and the Republican response.

This assumes that the two speakers effectively draw contrast and that voters begin to see the differences between the Biden and Trump approaches.

How will President Biden present and explain his continued plans to:

Safeguard the border and handle illegals in this country and those trying to enter?

Curtail violent crime?

Stop the rising cost of living? Groceries, utilities, housing, drugs and general inflation?

Rebuild America's energy independence?

Rebuild our military?

Assist Ukraine with more American billions? What is the end game? What will prevent the war in Ukraine from becoming to the U.S. what Afghanistan was to the Russians – an unwinnable war with no end in sight?

Restore confidence in the presidency?

Restore respect abroad for the United States?

How effectively will Britt paint a contrast between the Biden administration and the former (and possibly future) Trump administration?

The words of both speakers are important, but the visuals may be more so. Think Kennedy vs. Nixon in the 1960 televised debates.

Television and streaming video have a way of painting a visual contrast — an unmistakable contrast that no commentators can blur. How will the aging and enfeebled Biden appear before the cameras turn to the young, vibrant, and energetic Katie Britt?

Former Alabama Republican party chairman Bill Armistead analyzed the possibilities of the contrast this way:

“I applaud the selection of Sen. Katie Britt to give the Republican response to President Biden‘s State of the Union address. It is a wise choice because she presents a stark contrast to President Biden in both policy and appearance.

“There’s no doubt that she will make an excellent presentation because of her outstanding communication skills. Her message should be very direct regarding President Biden‘s failed policies as compared to the successful policies that President Trump implemented in his term as President, which provided greater opportunities for all Americans.

“The issues should focus on how President Trump will get our country back on track through implementing common sense economic policies for all Americans, securing his previously successful border security policies, stable foreign policies where America is once again respected around the world, and energy independence.”

The TV audience for this SOTU and response may be record-breaking. That is because of curiosity seekers. How does the President look and sound? And who is this young, new-generation U.S. Senator from Alabama?

Get your popcorn.

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at

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