FRANKFORT — Races this fall for the Kentucky Senate are not getting as much attention as those for the Kentucky House, where Republicans hope to win control for the first time since 1921. But the Senate is offering up some spirited elections, along with the possibilities of the first Latino and the first Muslim to serve in the Kentucky General Assembly.
Consider the battle for the 28th Senate District, which includes Clark and Montgomery counties and part of Fayette County.
Republican Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester doctor, is once again trying to oust Senate Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, a financial advisor in Winchester who has been in the legislature since 1999.
Alvarado, who wants to become the first Latino in the Kentucky legislature, was unsuccessful against Palmer in the 2010 race for the Senate district.
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In one of the hardest hitting television campaign ads this political season, Alvarado labels Palmer an "Obama liberal."
The 30-second ad says "most Kentuckians know Barack Obama was a bad idea, but not state Sen. R.J. Palmer."
Palmer "went running to be Obama's delegate for re-election" even after "a slumping economy, the Obamacare disaster and a war on coal taking 700 jobs from his hometown," the ad says.
Palmer disputes the ad's characterization of him, saying that he attended the 2012 Democratic presidential convention at the request of the state Democratic Party as a party leader.
Palmer dismissed Alvarado's ad as "typical of the Kentucky Republican Party playbook this year to try to tie every Democrat to the unpopular president and call them a liberal. Check my record."
Palmer is predicting that all Senate Democratic incumbents seeking re-election this year will win.
"And we have a very good chance of adding more to our number," he added.
Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the Senate 23-14. There is one independent, Bob Leeper, of Paducah, who is running for McCracken County judge-executive this fall and is not seeking re-election to the Senate.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, is confident that Republicans will keep control of the Senate, as they have since 2000.
"There may be uncertainty as to who the next governor will be, there may be uncertainty whether the Democrats will keep their hold in the state House, but there is no uncertainty about who will be the majority party in the state Senate," he said.
"On our worst day, we will go to 22 members. On our best day, we will go 26, 27."
Only half of the Senate's 38 districts — the 19 even-numbered districts — are on the ballot this Nov. 4. Of those, nine are being contested, including challenges to five incumbents and four open seats in which the incumbent is not seeking re-election.
Of those nine, five involve incumbents. The other four are open because the incumbents did not seek re-election.
Here's a look at the contested races:
Republican Alice Forgy Kerr has represented this southern Fayette County district since 1999, turning back several opponents. She is chairwoman of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee.
This year, Kerr is being challenged by Democrat Kathy Warnecke Ryan, an attorney whose husband, Michael Ryan, was killed in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 on Aug. 27, 2006. He was booked on the early Sunday morning flight at Blue Grass Airport after a Saturday night flight was canceled. The plane took off on the wrong runway, resulting in a crash that killed 49 people.
After her husband's death, Ryan lobbied the legislature to allow spouses to seek damages for loss of companionship in wrongful death cases.
Ryan's efforts were blocked in the Senate but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in an unrelated case in 2009 that a widowed person may sue for damages related to the loss of their spouse's emotional and physical companionship.
Democrat Robin Webb, a Grayson attorney who has been in the legislature since 1999, is being challenged by Republican Tony Downey of Ashland in the district that includes Boyd, Carter and Greenup counties.
Downey, a special education teacher, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate's 27th District in 2012 against Democrat Walter Blevins.
Republican Brandon Smith, a Hazard businessman, is the Senate majority whip and has been in the legislature since 2001. He is an advocate for coal.
His Democratic challenger in the district, which covers Bell, Breathitt, Johnson, Leslie, Magoffin and Perry counties, is Jordan Bowling Palmer, a Hazard small business owner who founded the Kentucky Equality Federation.
On his campaign website, Palmer rails against partisan politics, money, power and greed.
Political observers suggest that Republican Jared Carpenter of Berea is the most vulnerable of the GOP candidates seeking re-election. The district includes Madison and Rockcastle counties and part of Fayette County.
Carpenter, who is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, is being opposed by Democrat Michael Cope of Richmond.
Cope, a small business owner in Union City near Richmond, ran in the Democratic primary in 2010 but lost the nomination in a close three-way contest. His website notes that he has the backing of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
After being in the Senate since 1991, independent Bob Leeper, who sided with Republicans, decided not to seek re-election so he could run for McCracken County judge-executive.
The district includes Ballard, Carlisle, Marshall and McCracken counties.
The candidates to replace Leeper are Republican Danny Carroll and Democrat Jeff G. Parker. Both are from Paducah.
Carroll is a retired officer with the Paducah Police Department and current chief executive official of Easter Seals of West Kentucky. He has made three unsuccessful bids for sheriff of Marshall County, losing twice as a Democrat and once as a Republican.
Parker owns a pizza restaurant and is chairman of the McCracken County School Board. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 22 years.
Republicans think this may be their best chance to take away a seat that has been held by a Democrat, but it appears to be a tough race.
Democratic incumbent Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville did not seek re-election in the district, which lawmakers redrew last year to include Butler, Hopkins, Muhlenberg and Ohio counties.
Republican state Rep. C.B. Embry of Butler County, who has been in the House since 2003, filed for the seat. He is being challenged by Democrat William M. Cox Jr. of Madisonville.
Embry has been in the public arena for about 40 years. He is a former judge-executive of Ohio County and former mayor of Beaver Dam.
Cox, an attorney, is former mayor of Madisonville.
Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine of Southgate did not seek re-election in this district, which includes Campbell, Pendleton and Bracken counties.
The Republican candidate for the seat this fall is Republican Wil Schroeder of Wilder is a felony prosecutor in the Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney's office and worked in 2012 for the Republican presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.
Schroeder is the son of Supreme Court Justice Wil Schroeder, who died last October of a brain tumor.
The Democratic candidate is Jason Michael Steffen of Southgate, an elementary school principal and a sports apparel store owner. He has been commissioner of the Northern Kentucky Middle School Athletic Association for the past seven years.
Republican Julie Denton has held this seat in Jefferson County since 1995, but she is running for the Metro Council in Louisville this fall.
Republican state Rep. Julie Racque Adams hopes to replace Denton in the Senate.
She first must defeat Democratic candidate Siddique Malik of Louisville, president of Malik Software Inc.
If Malik wins, the Pakistani Muslim would be the first practicing Muslim elected to Kentucky's General Assembly.
Malik, who left Pakistan more than 40 years ago for Canada and then the United States, told WFPL in Louisville earlier this year that his party registration may be a tougher obstacle to overcome than his religion in a district that has nearly 1,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
Adams, who was elected to the House in 2010, is a founder of the public affairs firm Adams & Call, Inc. It provides clients public relations, community outreach and government relations.