CHEYENNE—Democratic Albany County Commissioner Tim Chesnut said Wednesday that he’s running for the U.S. Senate.

The 47-year-old Laramie resident admitted his chances of victory were small. But Chesnut hopes his campaign will help shift the political climate away from the hyperpartisanship seen today and encourage politicians to find middle ground.

Chesnut will face perennial office-seeker Al Hamburg, a retired painter from Torrington, in the August Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is being challenged in the Republican primary by former soldier of fortune Thomas Bleming of Lusk.

Chesnut doesn’t fit the mold of a conventional Senate candidate. Despite working two jobs, he needed help from the Albany County Democrats to pay the state’s $200 candidate filing fee. He also has multiple sclerosis, which he said often keeps him in a wheelchair.

Barrasso is the odds-on favorite to win Wyoming’s U.S. Senate race this year, especially as Republican voters in the state outnumber Democrats about 2-1.

But Chesnut believes a lot of people in Wyoming share his disgust with the partisan gridlock that’s paralyzing Washington these days. If elected, he said, he would work to move past entrenched party lines on either side and try to find solutions to the nation’s problems.

The No. 1 problem today, he said, is the nation’s $14 trillion debt. Chesnut said he wouldn’t rule out any potential solutions, from raising the Social Security retirement age to slashing Medicare benefits to raising taxes.

“It’s not going to be an overnight fix. We’re not going to have a balanced budget in 10 years,” Chesnut said. “But we need to be looking outside that box to get our ship in order.”

He also said he disagreed with Barrasso’s promotion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Even though such resources right now comprise a substantial part of Wyoming’s economy, Chesnut said he would push to develop new, nonpolluting energy sources, such as solar energy, from which Wyoming’s economy could benefit.

Chesnut said he plans to model himself after former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., by pushing for compromise even if it means bucking his party.

He also said he shares Simpson’s politically incorrect sense of humor, as shown by his campaign slogan: “Chesnut is the best nut for Senate.”

While it’s rare for a county commissioner to make the jump to the U.S. Senate, Chesnut said no one is really qualified to be a senator until he or she takes office.

“I don’t think Senator Barrasso was probably qualified until he got there and sat in and learned from the inside,” he said.

A Wyoming native who’s lived in the state nearly his entire life, Chesnut studied political science and journalism at the University of Wyoming but didn’t graduate. He is single with no children.

After working as a photographer for the Laramie Boomerang, he now works for The Arc to help the developmentally disabled. He also draws a paycheck as a county commissioner.

Without a large bank account to draw on – and without much hope of financial support from the Wyoming Democratic Party – Chesnut said he’ll be relying on small individual contributions to fund his campaign. He plans to win votes by campaigning door-to-door and visiting senior centers and Rotary Clubs around the state.

“I don’t know if I have a snowball’s chance in hell to do this thing,” he said. “But I know that I’m going to have a really good time going out and meeting with the people of Wyoming and learning from them.”

Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at 307-632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com

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