Both lawmakers are new to Washington and were selected by party leaders to showcase fast-rising fresh faces. They delivered similar messages that stressed unique life stories, their commitment to family and how the GOP Congress plans to govern in the next year.
But at a few subtle moments, Ernst and Curbelo deviated from each other. Ernst emphasized national security. Curbelo stressed his experience working on education issues and expressed hope that Republicans can work with Obama on immigration reform. Ernst never muttered the word "immigration."
That difference especially once again highlighted the divide that exists among Republicans on the topic of immigration reform. Curbelo, for example, campaigned on a promise to tackle immigration reform. He recently joined with about a half dozen House Republicans who voted against all or part of a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security that would strip away immigration policy changes made by Obama.
Ernst hails from Iowa, a state whose Republican politics are dominated by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a vocal opponent of immigration reform. When immigration came up during her campaign, it was usually in the context of criticizing Obama for using executive powers to change immigration policy.
In an interview Tuesday night, Curbelo said that when he submitted his draft to GOP leaders, "I got no pushback."
He said he had requested a copy of Ernst's speech "because I wanted to track her speech. We should have a fairly uniform message."
"Both her speech and my speech, I think, reflect a blend of the party’s priorities and ideas, and then some of our own priorities and ideas, too," he added.
Curbelo defended his decision to include a mention of immigration, saying the issue “is important to me. It’s important to a lot of members of the House Republican Conference. So that’s why I mentioned it.”
As for why Ernst didn’t mention it, Curbelo didn’t know. “Maybe immigration reform isn’t important in Iowa. You’d have to ask her why.”
Ernst and her aides weren't available for comment and had declined to speak earlier in the day about her speech. But top Republican aides defended their decision to use different spokespeople to shape the same general narrative.
"As in previous years’ State of the Union responses, Senator Ernst (R-Iowa) and Congressman Curbelo (R-Fla.) spoke of the GOP vision of commonsense solutions and greater opportunity for everyone in this country – framed by their unique stories and experiences," Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an email.
Here are some line-by-line examples of how the speeches differed. In the case of Curbelo, his words were translated by a bilingual Washington Post reporter in consultation with an English-language translation of his remarks provided by GOP aides:
Ernst played up her Red Oak, Iowa upbringing: "As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees."
Curbelo mentioned that he was born in South Florida and said Miami is "one of the most diverse cities in the country" and home to his young family. As a child, he said his parents "worked long hours for the benefit of our family. They came to this country in pursuit of freedom and the opportunity to work and invest in this great country."
Later, Ernst and Curbelo both talked about Americans who feel they're being left behind by economic growth and concerned about the increased cost of living.
"We see the hurt caused by cancelled health-care plans and higher monthly insurance bills. We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they'll be able to leave to their children. Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It's a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions."
"Today, health insurance is more expensive for many families and the cost of insurance has increased. Like my wife and I, many parents worry about the future of their children. But when the American people have sought solutions from Washington, the government has responded with broken politics that has made the divide between the rich and poor greater. Washington hasn't listened and hasn't worked for a fair economy that benefits everyone who lives in this country -- not just the most fortunate."
Both lawmakers mentioned the push to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a key GOP priority. They mentioned that it's a bipartisan proposal with the support of labor unions and a majority of Americans. Both noted that the State Department has determined that the project would have a minimal affect on the environment.
"President Obama will soon have a decision to make. Will he sign the bill or block good American jobs?" Ernst said.
Curbelo said something similar.
After that, however, the speeches differed again even as both were making the same general point: Both parties have areas of agreement and they hope that Obama will be able to work with Republicans on reaching bipartisan solutions.
Ernst made this point while discussing tax reform.
"Let's simplify America's outdated and loophole-ridden tax code," she said. "Republicans think tax filing should be easier for you, not just the well-connected. So let's iron out loopholes to lower rates and create jobs, not pay for more government spending. The president has already expressed some support for these kinds of ideas. We're calling on him now to cooperate to pass them."
Curbelo did it by recalling his previous work as a school board member.
"By putting children and teachers first, we drastically improved the quality of education in our schools and the neediest students have been the ones that have benefited the most," he said.
"We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, modernize legal immigration and strengthen our economy," he added later.
He concluded by saying: "In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these. Now, we hope that he will cooperate with us."
Ernst played up her military roots while speaking from the offices of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"This is where we'll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL and those radicalized by them," she said. "We know threats like these can't just be wished away. We've been reminded of terrorism's reach both at home and abroad, most recently in France and Nigeria but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief."
Curbelo also said that the nation needs to support its veterans and continue fighting al Qaeda and the Islamic State. But he only mentioned the recent attacks in France -- there was no mention of Australia, Canada or Nigeria. Of France, he said: "Our hearts go out to a nation in grief after such terrible tragedy."
Instead, Curbelo added criticism Obama's policy towards Cuba and Iran, who he said are led by "two brutal dictatorships which for decades have sought to do harm to the United States and our allies."
Towards the end, both made referencing to repealing the Affordable Care Act:
"We'll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that's hurt so many hardworking families," Ernst said.
"We will continue fighting to repeal the president's health-care reform plan that has caused so much havoc," Curbelo said.