Notable First Responders
1985 Gov. Bill Clinton, Ark . (D em .)
After President Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide win, Democrats tapped the young governor to narrate an upbeat video trumpeting Democratic successes and accuse Reagan of being out of touch. Clinton, the epitome of the "new Democrat," was at his folksy best, pausing at one point to wish Reagan a happy birthday.
1997 Rep . J. C. W atts , O kla . ( Rep .)
With Clinton entering his second term in the White House and eager to put his stamp on welfare reform, the GOP sent out the sole African-American Republican in Congress. Watts's rebuttal stuck to traditional party themes, emphasizing personal responsibility over government assistance, but it was overshadowed by a Washington Post story earlier that day reporting that he called two civil-rights leaders "race-hustling poverty pimps."
2006 Gov. Tim Kaine, Va. (Dem.)
Congressional Democratic leaders knew they'd made a mistake as soon as they picked Kaine, according to political analyst Larry Sabato. "They were second-guessing it right away," he says, adding that Kaine "wasn't the powerhouse they needed in an election year." They were right: one wag called him "awkward, stilted and mechanical."
2008 Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Kans. (Dem.)
From the comfort of her Topeka living room, Sebelius tried to chart a nonpartisan course, terming her speech "an American response." Her delivery was bland and unmemorable, but she still got considered for Obama's veep slot.
2009 Gov. Bobby Jindal, La. (Rep.)
"Insane." "Amateurish." "A disaster." And that's just how Jindal's fellow conservatives described his speech. Much was expected of the 38-year-old Rhodes scholar; instead, his 12-minute response became an overnight joke. Jindal also hurt himself with a dig at federal spending for volcano-eruption monitoring—an odd thing to say considering what Hurricane Katrina did to his home state.