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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

In a mild surprise, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter has reportedly chosen Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennet to be the Rocky Mountain State’s next Senator, replacing Ken Salazar, who is expected to be named Barack Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. Bennet beat out a number of more familiar names for the position, including Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and John Salazar, the Congressman from Colorado’s third district and the younger older brother of Ken.

Colorado is one of four states that will require senators to be appointed as a result of Barack Obama’s transition the White House. Remarkably, it now appears possible that none of the four appointees will be present holders of elected office. Indeed three of the four have never before run for elected office. This includes Bennet, who worked for an investment firm prior to becoming superintendent, and Delaware’s Ted Kaufman, a Beltway political operative who was formerly Joe Biden’s chief of staff. Caroline Kennedy, if she is named to Hillary Clinton’s seat in New York, has also never run for office. Only Roland Burris in Illinois, if the Democrats choose to seat him, would break the rule, having been his state’s Attorney General until 1995.

In contrast to certain of the other selections, however, this one would appear to be eminently meritorious, as Ritter had a rich group of candidates to pick from, and as Bennet’s work in Denver was regarded strongly enough that he was reportedly a finalist to become Obama’s Secretary of Education. Relatively little is known about Bennet’s politics, however. If he fits the profile of a typical Colorado Democrat, he’ll be liberal on social issues and the environment, but more moderate on fiscal policy (as his business background might imply).

Salazar’s seat was to be up for re-election in 2010, and so Bennet — if he so desires — would soon have the opportunity to compete for a full six-year term. I would be modestly surprised if Bennet is merely intending to serve as a placeholder, as at age 44, he is on track to become the youngest member of the United States Senate.

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