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U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby Spends Big In Alabama Primary

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The presidential race will get the most attention tomorrow, but there are many other primary elections in Super Tuesday states. Veteran politicians aren't taking chances in this unpredictable year. One example, Sen. Richard Shelby from Alabama. He's been in office almost 30 years. His main opponent has only been alive for 33. Here's Gigi Douban of member station WBHM.

GIGI DOUBAN, BYLINE: What is $5 buy you in Chilton County? All the chili you could eat, line dancing and door prizes galore.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Five, three, one, nine - everybody check your tickets.

DOUBAN: Oh, and a chance to meet Sen. Richard Shelby, who spent a recent Saturday campaigning at the Chilton County Chili Cook Off. Shelby is 81 years old, and he wants people to know that he still has a sharp memory.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hello senator.

RICHARD SHELBY: Now, that's your daughter that married Shan?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah.

DOUBAN: He hasn't campaigned this aggressively since he first ran as a Democrat for this Senate seat back in 1986. Anne Turner is a Republican voter who says Shelby's campaign has been calling her a lot.

ANNE TURNER: Four times yesterday.

DOUBAN: In one day?

TURNER: In one day (laughter).

DOUBAN: Since January 1, Shelby has spent more than $5 million on his campaign. That's double what he spent on his last bid in 2010, and more than any other Senate candidate this year, according to The Cook Political Report. Here's one ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: When the big Wall Street banks came with their hand out, Shelby said no way, stood firm.

DOUBAN: Shelby chairs the Senate Banking Committee, and most of his campaign cash comes from banks, including some of the ones he slams in his ads. Larry Powell is a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

LARRY POWELL: When you are on the Banking Committee, banks give you money. And if you're a powerful member of the Banking Committee, they give you lots of money.

DOUBAN: Despite voting against the bailout, Shelby says he's still on the industry's good side.

SHELBY: Some of them like some of my views - that is, don't over-regulate them.

DOUBAN: As far as his challengers, Shelby wouldn't so much as acknowledge them in an interview. His ads tell a different story.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Con man Jon McConnell - Alabama just can't trust him.

DOUBAN: That refers to Shelby's biggest threat in the Republican primary, 33-year-old former Marine Corps Capt. Jon McConnell. Up until recently, McConnell had been nearly unknown in Alabama. But he says thanks to Shelby's attack ads, his name recognition is rising. For NPR News, I'm Gigi Douban in Birmingham, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.