Denver Schools Superintendent Selected Senator

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DENVERColorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Saturday named Denver's public schools superintendent as his choice to fill a Senate vacancy that will be created by the promotion of Sen. Ken Salazar to interior secretary in the Obama administration.

The move surprised many Republicans and Democrats, who considered schools superintendent Michael Bennet a dark horse candidate for the Senate spot because of his lack of legislative experience. The 44-year-old Democrat has never campaigned for or held public office.

Bennet had been mentioned as a possible choice for President-elect Barack Obama's education secretary, but Obama chose 44-year-old Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of Chicago public schools for the Cabinet post.

Salazar's nomination to head the Interior Department will be considered by the Senate. He has two years left in his term.

Ritter praised Bennet as a proven leader and problem-solver in the both public and private sectors.

"This is a critical time in history. The economic challenges facing America and Colorado are unprecedented," Ritter said in a written statement. "Our challenges are so serious that it will take a new generation of leaders, a new way of thinking and a bold new approach to problem-solving to steer us through this."

Obama said in a statement that Bennet would be "a breath of fresh air in Washington."

"Michael Bennet perfectly reflects the qualities of the ruggedly independent state he has been chosen to serve," Obama said.