The Democrats' hopes for a "blue wave" in Kentucky hinged on their base overwhelming sluggish GOP voters by being fired up in opposition to President Donald Trump and an unpopular governor. Instead, Kentucky again proved its conservative bona fides by maintaining the GOP's grip.
On a night when Democrats made gains in House districts across the country, Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr survived a fierce challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath in Kentucky's 6th District. The close race was likely won in Madison County, where Barr got nearly 60 percent of the vote following a visit by Trump in early October.
Across the state, at least 36 teachers were on the ballot for state legislative seats, most of them Democrats angry at Republican-passed laws allowing charter schools and making changes to one of the country's worst-funded public pension systems. With Gov. Matt Bevin's approval ratings plummeting, Democrats attacked Republican candidates in ads by saying they would be "rubber stamps" for Bevin's agenda.
But Republicans preserved their majorities in the House and Senate on Tuesday, winning or ahead in at least 60 out of the 100 seats in the state House of Representatives.
"Democrats ran on what they wouldn't do for the state rather than proposing any real ideas to move Kentucky forward. The voters were not fooled," said Blake Brickman, Bevin's chief of staff. "They clearly see the results that Gov. Matt Bevin and the Republican majority have and will continue to deliver for the Commonwealth."
House Democratic leader Rocky Adkins blamed the losses on "a nationalized climate and the unfortunate rise of dark money and negative attacks.
"As we look ahead, the House Democratic Caucus will continue advocating for policies that benefit all Kentuckians, not just a select few," said Adkins, who is a potential candidate for governor next year.
Incumbents also won in Kentucky's five other congressional districts, all Republican except for the Louisville-area 3rd District, where Democrat John Yarmuth was first elected in 2006.
In the 6th District, which includes Lexington and state capital Frankfort, both parties saw the race as close. Barr hosted a rally with President Donald Trump, and McGrath campaigned at a high school gym with former Vice President Joe Biden.
Olivia Renfro, a Centre College student, hugged McGrath and cried after her concession.
"I'm feeling pretty devastated, I really believed in her campaign. I really thought she would pull out a win," said Renfro, who canvassed for McGrath during the campaign. But Renfro said she was inspired as a woman to run for office someday.
Barr leaned heavily on the district's rural counties, winning Madison County, Lexington's neighbor, with 59 percent of the vote. President Donald Trump came to campaign for Barr in Madison County's largest city, Richmond, in mid-October.
McGrath had hoped to flip a congressional district that has switched party control five times since 1978. But some voters said they liked the way things were going and stuck with Barr.
"We are doing good now, so why change things up?" said Elizabeth Blythe, a 25-year-old from Georgetown in Scott County. "I think it's good to keep things the same right now."