Republican challenger Ralph Alvarado turned the table Tuesday on state Sen. R.J. Palmer II in the rematch of their 2010 race, narrowly defeating the incumbent in a contentious and expensive campaign for the 28th District seat.
Palmer had defeated Alvarado four years ago.
Alvarado's win helped Republicans add to their margin in the Senate, where the GOP held 23 of the 38 seats before Tuesday's vote. One independent, Bob Leeper of Paducah, did not seek re-election.
Republican Danny Carroll won the 2nd District seat that Leeper gave up, and Republican state Rep. C.B. Embry of Butler County won the 6th District seat, which had been held by a Democrat.
That gives Republicans a 26 to 12 margin, said Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester.
"I think we kind of blew it out of the water tonight," Stivers said.
Stivers said one Democratic senator who was not up for re-election Tuesday, Walter "Doc" Blevins Jr., won election as Rowan County judge-executive. Blevins will have to leave his Senate seat, which will result in a special election for the job after the first of the year, Stivers said.
Only half of the Senate seats were up for election this year.
Alvarado, a Winchester physician, succeeded with a strategy that took advantage of President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in Kentucky, running television ads that described Palmer as an "Obama liberal."
Palmer "went running to be Obama's delegate for re-election" despite "a slumping economy, the Obamacare disaster and a war on coal taking 700 jobs from his hometown," one ad said.
Palmer rejected the characterization, but Alvarado said he thought it had impact with a lot of voters.
The two clashed over a Palmer ad that Alvarado said defamed him by implying that he illegally sold $3,000 worth of pain medication to a drug defendant.
A judge said there were "clearly issues" with how Palmer's campaign edited courtroom video for the ad, but said he could not grant Alvarado's request to block it.
Alvarado said the personal attack pushed some voters his way.
"I think people are ready for somebody who's going to be a fresh start for our district," Alvarado said Tuesday night.
Palmer, a financial adviser from Winchester, has been a state lawmaker since 1999 and is the minority floor leader in the Senate.
The district is made up of Clark and Montgomery counties and part of Fayette County.
In the race for the 12th District seat in Fayette County, incumbent Republican Alice Forgy Kerr defeated Democratic challenger Kathy Warnecke Ryan by a wide margin.
Kerr has represented the district in the southern part of the county since 1999.
As of Oct. 3, the last date with available figures for both candidates, Kerr had outspent Ryan significantly.
Ryan is an attorney whose husband, Michael Ryan, was killed in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 on Aug. 27, 2006, in which 49 people died.
Kerr said her longtime service helped her.
"I've been here and I think people know that I do my very best to serve them," Kerr said.
Some observers thought incumbent Republican Sen. Jared Carpenter of Berea was the most vulnerable of the GOP Senate candidates, but he turned back Democratic challenger Michael Cope by a comfortable margin in the 34th District.
Cope, who operates a commercial glass and general contracting firm, said Carpenter touted family values in his 2010 race but has since gone through a "big, nasty divorce, and infidelity was involved."
Carpenter slammed Cope for mudslinging.
"I've been through a divorce, but I'm still a family man who takes care of my kids," Carpenter said.
Carpenter, a banker, reported spending 10 times more money than Cope as of Oct. 20, the end of the most recent reporting period. The district includes Madison and Rockcastle counties and part of Fayette County.
In the 18th District of Boyd, Carter and Greenup counties, Democrat Robin Webb, a Grayson attorney who has been in the legislature since 1999, easily won over Republican challenger Tony Downey of Ashland.
Downey, a special education teacher, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate's 27th District in 2012.
Republican Brandon Smith, the Senate majority whip, won by a wide margin over Democratic challenger Jordan Bowling Palmer in the 30th District, which is made up of Bell, Breathitt, Johnson, Leslie, Magoffin and Perry counties.
Smith, a Hazard businessman, has been in the legislature since 2001.
Registration in the district favors Democrats, but it's a conservative area where coal is a key economic factor, and Smith has been a vocal supporter of the industry.
Palmer, a Hazard small-business owner, founded the Kentucky Equality Federation, which advocates for lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
In the 2nd District, Carroll, a retired Paducah police officer and current head of Easter Seals of West Kentucky, defeated Democrat Jeff G. Parker, who owns a pizza restaurant and is chairman of the McCracken County School Board.
The district includes Ballard, Carlisle, Marshall and McCracken counties.
Republicans thought they had a good chance to pick up the 6th District seat — where Democrat Jerry Rhoads did not seek re-election — and Embry delivered, defeating Democrat William M. Cox Jr. of Madisonville.
The district is made up of Butler, Hopkins, Muhlenberg and Ohio counties.
Embry, a former Ohio County judge-executive and Beaver Dam mayor, has been in public life for four decades.
Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine did not seek re-election in the 24th District, but Republican Wil Schroder of Wilder, a felony prosecutor in Campbell County, defeated school principal Jason Michael Steffen to hold the seat for the GOP.
Schroder is the son of Supreme Court Justice Wil Schroder, who died last October. The district includes Campbell, Pendleton and Bracken counties.
Republican state Rep. Julie Racque Adams defeated Democratic candidate Siddique Malik in the 36th District race in Louisville, where incumbent GOP Sen. Julie Denton did not seek re-election.
Malik was trying to become the first practicing Muslim in the state legislature.