- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A former Roman Catholic priest formally kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign Tuesday by calling for raising the minimum wage and creating jobs through infrastructure projects.

Democratic candidate Charlie Hardy spoke to a couple dozen supporters who braved the snow and bitter cold to crowd into his campaign office in downtown Cheyenne. He told them he’s running because many parents in Wyoming worry about not having enough money to provide for their children.

“There are sick people in Wyoming who are unable to go and get medical attention they want. There are kids who want to continue their education, but they can’t. We must run, and we must win because of all of these things,” he said.

Hardy, 74, is a Cheyenne native who spent 19 years as a priest and teacher in Wyoming. He also has ministered in poverty-stricken communities in Latin America.

These days, he said, he’s a writer and public speaker and fills in as a substitute teacher for French, Spanish, art and other subjects in Cheyenne public schools.

He said Congress is focused on cutting unemployment benefits and bickering over health care but “that’s not the way things ought to be.”

“Raise the minimum wage, and there’s going to be a lot more money to pump back into the economy,” he said. “And there’s going to be a lot less people on food stamps.”

He suggested that projects to build and repair roads, bridges and pipelines could create good jobs in Wyoming.

“It’s not a question of money. It’s where are we allocating the money,” he said.

U.S. Senate primary elections are in August. Other candidates this year include Democrat Rex Wilde, of Cheyenne, and Republicans Thomas Bleming, of Lusk, and incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi.

Hardy and others a huge fundraising challenge to catch Enzi, who has already has banked $1.8 million after facing a brief challenge from Liz Cheney, a fellow Republican. The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney launched her campaign in July and suspended it last month, citing family health issues. She has a daughter with Type 1 diabetes.

Enzi’s spokeswoman, Kristen Walker, said he continues to fundraise.

“If the voters in Wyoming are going to decide this on who has the most money, we will not win,” Hardy said. “But if it’s who is most in touch with the people, and who has the most ideas? We think we have a good chance.”

Hardy launched a campaign for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat in 2012 as an independent but did not get enough signatures to make the ballot.

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