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Friday
Oct222010

Running Blue in a Red State; William Barnes Takes on Richard Shelby

Photo Courtesy - William G. Barnes for United States Senate(BIRMINGHAM, Alabama) -- What's it like to run as a Democratic U.S. Senate contender in Alabama this election year?  For GOP Sen. Richard Shelby's opponent William Barnes, it means answering your own phones.

When ABC News recently reached out to Barnes' campaign office, the voice on the other end of the line was not an intern, nor a press secretary, but the very man waging an uphill battle against a four-term incumbent senator.

"This is the candidate, himself," Barnes said, picking up the line at his small law practice in downtown Birmingham.

Lisa Ward, Barnes' campaign administrator, said a direct line to the 61-year-old Democrat is no coincidence.

"He does it on purpose. He likes to talk to as many people as he possibly can," Ward said.  "I've seen him drive 40 minutes just so he can put a sign on an old lady's yard."

Barnes, a former Army psychologist, has no illusions of grandeur about the likely November outcome.  The latest polling shows Shelby up by nearly 30 points, the Barnes campaign is short on cash and Shelby has an impressive campaign war chest currently exceeding $17 million, according to the most recent FEC disclosures.

Not since Sen. Howell Heflin's retirement in 1997 has a Democrat represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate.  So what compelled Barnes, a political novice with limited financial resources, to seek federal office?  He said the notion came to him four years ago, amid the daily duties of being a father.

"I used to take my daughter to school in downtown Birmingham.  And there was this old political billboard [of Shelby] next to the highway, and it intrigued me, and my research revealed that in all his years in the Senate, he never had any serious contenders in any of his races," Barnes said.  "That just planted a seed in my mind."

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