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Faces to Watch During the 2014 State of the Union

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
McConnell faces both a Republican primary opponent and a strong Democrat in the general election, and there is an 8.2 percent jobless rate. Look to him when Obama mentions unemployment.

President Barack Obama will go before Congress Tuesday night to deliver the State of the Union address as both parties are gearing up for a bruising midterm election campaign.

Obama’s speech, which comes nine months before his second and final midterm election cycle as president, will provide fodder for his congressional supporters, opponents and those in between — vulnerable members, especially Senate Democrats who must separate themselves from the president to save their own seats.

Reactions from these members — spoken and unspoken — during Obama’s speech will likely prove instructive for the months ahead, November and beyond.

For Democrats in tough races, the president’s policy focus and performance this year could have an outsized role in whether they return to Capitol Hill. And for those Democrats running in red states, this speech can provide an opportunity to put distance between themselves and the president. As for the less common Republican incumbents in challenging races, Obama’s address could provide more opportunities to tie their opponents to an unpopular president.

Republicans appear to have a locked grip on the House majority, though Democrats hope to cut into the GOP’s 17-seat advantage in the 2014 elections. In the Senate, Democrats are clinging to a five-seat majority on a playing field that gives Republicans an advantage.

With that, here are Roll Call’s predictions for the top issues in the speech that will influence the races in 2014 — and which faces you should watch during the address.

Income Inequality, Unemployment Insurance and Minimum Wage

Top Democrats in both chambers have said they want to focus on income inequality as a policy and campaign issue in 2014. Democrats are banking on this message to help persuade swing voters and excite the party’s base — and the president is expected to make his strongest case yet Tuesday night.

Earlier this month, Senate Republicans filibustered a bill that would have extended lapsed jobless benefits to millions of Americans. But in North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana — home to three of this cycle’s most competitive Senate races — the unemployment rates are 7.4 percent, 7.5 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., fits the bill of a member who would benefit from a focus on jobless benefits or minimum wage increase, as opposed to the unpopular-for-now health care law.

In Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces both a Republican primary opponent and a strong Democrat in the general election, there is an 8.2 percent jobless rate. Plus, earlier this month, Obama announced that Southeastern Kentucky would be one of five targeted regions to launch the administration’s “Promise Zone” program, which seeks to spur economic growth in high-poverty areas.

Faces to watch:

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