In the gallery: Faces of US politics, culture

Associated Press
Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, center and his wife Korie, talk with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, center and his wife Korie, talk with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON (AP) — They are a different kind of representative.

The faces of American politics, culture and tragedy circa 2014 filling the visitors' gallery high above the House during President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night, guests of the lawmakers sitting below them.

Ushered into the secure gallery overlooking chamber ablaze in broadcast lights, the guests occupying what's been called the "heroes' gallery" represented the horror of Benghazi, a television show about duck calls and an American imprisoned in North Korea. Some represented the success of Obama's signature national health care policy, others the frustration that the new law has caused them. All have bit roles in the looming midterm elections — or perhaps, the 2016 presidential race — chosen by their hosts to make well-publicized points as the tweets fly.

Start with Republicans' effort to cast the 2014 election as a referendum on Obama and his health care law and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. In an apocalyptic campaign spot released hours before the address, McConnell's re-election campaign challenges Obama.

"The microphone is all yours, Mr. President," a message reads across the screen at the spot's end. "Explain."

The White House's answer is Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat and "Obamacare" supporter, seated in the gallery with first lady Michelle Obama.

"I'm sure that the governor will enjoy being in the presence of the first lady tonight, but no amount of spin can convince Kentuckians that 'Obamacare' has not been, at least so far, a pretty big setback for our state," McConnell said.

Later, McConnell didn't clap when Obama scolded Congress for the debt and deficit standoff that closed down the government last year. The Kentucky Republican, like most in his party, stayed seated and silent when Obama declared that "America does not stand still - and neither will I" and vowed to take what action he can without legislation.

Other gallery guests Tuesday night represent:

—Duck Dynasty: Willie Robertson, CEO of Duck Commander and star of the A&E show was the guest of Rep. Vance McAllister, Louisiana's new Republican congressman. Willie is the son of Phil Robertson, who was temporarily suspended from the show after making anti-gay remarks.

—Benghazi: Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., hosted Charles Woods, father of Ty Woods, a Navy SEAL killed in the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. The Sept. 11, 2012, attack and the Obama administration's response to it is a politically charged subject ahead of the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election, when Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack, is a possible presidential contender.

—Struggle under "Obamacare:" Republican leaders urged their members to host people for whom Obama's signature national health care law is a burden. House Speaker John Boehner's guests included business owners from his Ohio district. They include David Lippert, president of Hamilton Caster & Manufacturing Company in Hamilton, Ohio, who complains "Obamacare" is limiting his efforts to expand his business.

—Success under "Obamacare": Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida hosted small business owner Martin West, whose wife, Melinda, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. In December, West signed his family up for health insurance under the new law and "now have the peace of mind of knowing they cannot be dropped from their health insurance due to a pre-existing condition," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

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