Obama to name Salazar for interior, Vilsack for USDA post Wednesday

President-elect Barack Obama will name his secretary of interior at a press conference in Chicago at 10:45 a.m. CST Wednesday, his transition team announced. It has been widely reported that Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado will be the nominee. At the same press conference, Obama is expected to name former Democratic Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture, NBC first reported Tuesday afternoon.

Salazar’s older brother, 3rd District U.S. Rep. John Salazar of Manassas, was rumored to be at the top of the list for agriculture secretary as recently as last week, when he won appointment to the powerful House Appropriations Committee and speculation shifted elsewhere.

Ken Salazar’s move to interior — after he earlier brushed off speculation he was in the running for the post — could open up a can of dominos as state Democrats jockey for position to win appointment to the first-term senator’s seat. Salazar, who previously served as Colorado’s attorney general, won election to the Senate in 2004 and was widely thought to be favored for re-election in 2010.

Gov. Bill Ritter will make an appointment to fill out the term, although his office on Tuesday declined to discuss the mechanism for naming a replacement. Salazar’s office declined to comment on a timetable for Salazar’s resignation from the Senate, brushing off any such questions because his cabinet nomination hasn’t been officially confirmed.

Among the Democrats discussed as potential replacements are Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and John Salazar; outgoing House Speaker Andrew Romanoff; state Treasurer Cary Kennedy; former Denver Mayor and Clinton Cabinet official Federico Peña; and Ritter, who has the option to appoint himself.

Others whose names have been mentioned include state state Senate Majority Leader Peter Groff; Tom Strickland, who lost twice in U.S. Senate races against Sen. Wayne Allard; former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb; and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet, whose name was on the short list for Obama’s secretary of education until Monday, when Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan’s name emerged as the nominee for that cabinet post.

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Ernest Luning

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