WASHINGTON -- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington will deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address next week, party leaders announced Thursday.

McMorris Rodgers, a fifth-term congresswoman, currently chairs the House Republican Conference, the fourth-ranking position in leadership. She’s also the mother of three children -- one born just two months ago -- and will become the first Republican woman since former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 1995 to deliver a State of the Union response speech by herself.

Putting McMorris Rodgers into this prominent role is a signal that party leaders understand the need to grow their appeal among women voters in the coming midterm elections. GOP strategists have urged the party to do more to reach out to women since the 2012 elections, when statements made by some male candidates about rape offended female voters and set back efforts to win Senate seats.

A video, above, that accompanied the announcement from Republican leaders Thursday focuses on McMorris Rodgers’ role as a mother and the influence her son Cole, who has Down syndrome, has had on her work as an elected leader.

The task of delivering the response to the State of the Union has proven to be challenging one, more likely to trip up an ambitious politician than to reward one. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s response last year was noted more for his awkward lurch for a water bottle than for anything he said.

Other speakers for the GOP during Obama’s presidency have included Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Govs. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) and Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.). Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was the last member of the House to deliver the GOP address to the nation, doing so in 2011 after Republicans had just reclaimed the majority.

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Michael.memoli@latimes.com

On Twitter: @mikememoli