Image: Michael Bennet
Preston Gannaway  /  Rocky Mountain News file
Superintendent Michael Bennet, Gov. Bill Ritter and Chief Academic Officer Jaime Aquino, from right, greet students during the first day of school at Whittier K-7 School on Monday, Aug. 18, 2008, in Denver, Colo. Bennet is expected to be named Saturday as the future U.S. Senate replacement for Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar, according to two Democratic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to both Denver-area newspapers.
updated 1/2/2009 5:12:32 PM ET 2009-01-02T22:12:32

Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to name Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet to fill a Senate vacancy that will be created by the promotion of Sen. Ken Salazar to Interior secretary in the Obama administration, sources told The Associated Press.

One source close to the governor who is in a position to know and another source in the Democratic Party said Bennett is Ritter's choice. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.

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

Bennet was considered a dark horse candidate for the Senate spot because of his lack of legislative experience. A message left for Bennet at his DPS office, which was closed for winter break, was not immediately returned.

Ritter's announcement could come as early as Saturday.

The Yale-educated lawyer in 2003 was tapped to be chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who then encouraged him to apply for the superintendent job for the 150-school city system two years later.

In June 2005, the Denver Board of Education unanimously appointed him superintendent of Denver Public Schools after he promised to provide each school with a highly skilled faculty and was able to get teachers to support merit pay. He also promised to track student progress and provide help.

The school board said Bennett delivered and students made strong improvements in reading, math, writing and science.

According to Denver Public Schools, the district posted a 6.2 percent increase in reading scores over the three years, more than four times the growth of the state. In math, there was a 6 percent gain, more than twice the growth of the state, and in the middle grades, Denver saw gains of 10 percent in reading and 9 percent in math.

Political consultant Floyd Ciruli said Bennett is a risky choice for Democrats, who will have to spend millions of dollars defending that seat in two years.

"He's the one candidate on the list who has the least political experience. I don't think anyone knows his views on anything except education. This is surprising," Ciruli said.

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Among the other Democrats who competed for the vacancy were term-limited state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Hickenlooper also asked to be considered. A message left for Romanoff was not immediately returned.

Former Denver Mayor Federico Pena and Rep. Diana DeGette told Ritter they weren't interested in the job.

Salazar will stay in his seat until he's confirmed as Interior secretary following Obama's inauguration, which could take several weeks.

The quiet Colorado Senate search was a marked departure from Senate searches in the two other states with Senate vacancies.

In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich faces federal charges of seeking bribes in exchange for his appointment to Obama's Senate seat. Blagojevich has insisted he did nothing wrong and named an Obama replacement Tuesday, state Attorney General Roland Burris.

In New York, where Sen. Hillary Clinton has been tapped as secretary of state, the high-profile search includes Caroline Kennedy.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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