10 Left-Field Names as Romney Seeks Right VP

If this week's news that Mitt Romney is waiting until after the Olympic Games to announce his vice presidential pick is correct, it would be poignant timing indeed for the man who's made his chairmanship of the Salt Lake City Games part of his business-acumen platform.

And with all of the speculation buildup -- and anxiety in many corners over whether Romney's pick will buoy or bore the GOP -- the eventual pick might as well be stepping up to the podium to pick up the veepstakes medal.

The vice president may or may not have been chosen, but two days ago the Romney camp named a director of operations and a communications director for the mystery veep hopeful. The office is being stocked and the open chair is just waiting for that perfect break in the news cycle to drop the balloons, send pundits into a tizzy, and maybe send extra-jazzed delegates to Tampa.

The Romney campaign also got a bit of free water-testing when the Drudge Report headlined the possibility of Condoleezza Rice being added to the ticket, igniting a firestorm of protest from many on the right. If they leaked enough names, that could actually take care of any vetting worries one by one.

We know the names that are generally agreed to be on the top of the list right now: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Also in the running appears to be Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose poor response to Obama's 2009 congressional address is mainly just remembered by policy nerds like yours truly by this point, and who went to Ohio yesterday to hold a "repeal and replace" rally for Romney. And let's not forget Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Imagine for a moment, though, that Romney had a wild streak and unveiled a running mate from left field, someone who had been vetted without a single leak to the media, someone so off the radar that the media hadn't even thought to ask about this person as a nominee -- but someone who had something to bring to the ticket.

J.C. Watts

I mentioned the former chairman of the House Republican Conference on a radio show this week, and the response was as if the heavens opened and choirs sang. Before Allen West and Tim Scott, this former Oklahoma congressman was paving the way for black Republicans on the Hill post-Reconstruction, asking famously in the title of his 2002 book "What Color is a Conservative?" Watts strikes a strong balance between rejecting identity politics while chiding his party for not doing enough outreach to minority communities. A Baptist minister, he would excite conservative Christians. Since 2003, he's run J.C. Watts Companies, lobbying for businesses like John Deere and serving on the boards of other companies such as Clear Channel. You'd get the Washington acumen and the grass-roots excitement with Watts, with a double-businessman ticket.

John Bolton

This isn't so far from left field, as the former ambassador to the United Nations flirted with a presidential run himself -- and endorsed Romney after deciding against his own run. The timing is excellent to bring in this sage of foreign policy, given the post-Arab Spring crises, rapidly escalating Iranian nuclear program, and failed Russian reset -- all left to fester under the Obama administration. While Bolton would fill the bill of balancing out the Romney ticket -- bringing both Washington know-how and international brilliance -- voters unfortunately have put the world falling down around their ears rather low on the list. But the straight-talking ambassador does have a solid fan base and would wipe the floor with either President Obama or Vice President Biden in a debate.

Gale Norton

The conventional wisdom this go-round is that the well is essentially poisoned for women candidates. But in the year of Keystone XL, there's a candidate who could seriously get in the craw of environmentalists. George W. Bush's former Interior secretary, the first woman to hold that position, also has the distinction of surviving Eric Holder: in 2009, the Department of Justice investigated Norton's past at Royal Dutch Shell in conjunction with leases later awarded to the company, but closed the investigation the following year without pressing charges. Big Oil-wise in terms of Democratic attacks, she'd be the female Cheney. But it would be helpful to send her out on the trail to tear into Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy, the Solyndra adventure, Keystone, and more.

Donald Rumsfeld

Perhaps it was just a bit of wishful thinking after seeing the former secretary of Defense disassemble the Law of the Sea Treaty in front of John Kerry last month. But the 80 year old who served under both presidents Ford and Bush 43 would bring a wealth of worldly wisdom to the ticket, as well as his signature wit. And there's really nothing else a hungry DNC could dig out from his past, so they'd simply attack him as a warmongering Bushite. Just imagine Rummy facing off with Joe Biden in the vice presidential debate. That could possibly be the best debate ever. Ever.