WASHINGTON – House Republicans tapped freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Tucson, to deliver the Spanish rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday, a move analysts say further cements his status as a rising GOP star.
“Most congressmen don’t have a profile outside of their congressional district,” said Chuck Coughlin, president of consulting firm HighGround Inc. “So for him as a freshman to be able to do something this broadly is a great opportunity for him to introduce himself to more and more Arizonans.”
But at least one analyst called it little more than a cosmetic effort by leaders of a party that struggles with diversity.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on the Republicans to show that they’re not just the party of older white men,” said Rodd McLeod, a consultant at Radar Strategies. “They have made an effort to demonstrate some of their diversity.”
In naming Ciscomani, House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy cited a personal history that he called “nothing short of inspirational.”
Ciscomani’s family emigrated from Mexico when he was a child and settled in Tucson, where they earned their citizenship. He was the first in his family to graduate from college and worked in former Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration before successfully running for the 6th District seat last year.
“While Democrats’ woke politics would have you believe the worst in our nation, Juan and his family are a shining reminder of what we look like at our best,” McCarthy said in a news release. “They are the American Dream, and Congress is all the better because of the unique perspectives and lived experiences that Juan brings to this institution.”
Ciscomani said in the same release that he is humbled and honored to deliver the address.
“My message will be simple and straightforward: the American Dream is a dream worth fighting for,” he said in the statement. “The people of my district in Arizona and Americans across our country want accountability, responsibility and sensibility restored in our nation’s capital.”
The practice of the other party giving a rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address goes back decades, and there has been a Spanish-language response since at least 2011. But Ciscomani is only the second freshman picked to give the Spanish rebuttal, which can be a high-profile assignment.
Inside Elections reporter and political analyst Erin Convey said Ciscomani’s selection shows “how the party is trying to build upon the gains they made with Latino voters last cycle.”
Sean Noble, a consultant at Compass Strategies, said Ciscomani stands out for turning the seat from blue to red in a district where “a lot of people thought Democrats would win.”
“He ran a great campaign,” Noble said. “He’s very articulate, and he encapsulates the very basis of what it means to live the American dream.”
Ciscomani beat Democrat Kirsten Engel, an environmental attorney, by 1.5% to win the seat that had been held for the last four years by Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who retired last year. Republicans have a slight edge in registration, with 35.7% of voters to 31.9% for Democrats, but the district still voted for Biden in 2020.
David Wasserman, a reporter for the Cook Political Report, attributes Ciscomani’s win to the small-business expertise he gained as a member of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and to more traditional Republican views that did not scare away independent voters.
“Ciscomani was clearly successful in attracting a number of political moderates and independents to his candidacy,” said Wasserman, who called District 6 a swing district. “After all, he did not look or sound like Donald Trump in his campaign appeals. And that was helpful in his congressional bid last year.”
McLeod said Ciscomani benefited from bringing a refreshing presence to the GOP in addition to being “an unusually handsome person.” Coughlin described Ciscomani as someone who has “all the DNA attributes to be a popular voice for the GOP.”
But political consultant Jason Rose thinks there is more to Ciscomani’s appeal than his politics, youth and ethnicity. He compared Ciscomani to former President Barack Obama, saying he has the same “combination of charisma and communication and life story that simply moves you.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in Congress for 20 years or two years,” Rose said. “When you’re good, you’re good. When you’re talented, you’re talented. When you have a life story, you have a life story.”