FRANKFORT — The first priority for Democrats and Republicans in their quest to rule the Kentucky House for the next two years is to defend the turf they already hold.
It won't be easy. Several incumbents from both parties are facing stiff challenges in the Nov. 4 elections.
As Republicans and Democrats fight over control of the 100-member Kentucky House this fall, 29 Democratic and 16 Republican incumbents are trying to keep their district seats. Eight other contested districts are "open," meaning they don't have an incumbent seeking re-election.
Democrats now control the chamber with a 54-46 majority. Republicans are hoping to wrest control from them for the first time since 1921.
A Republican takeover of the House would give the GOP control of both of the state's lawmaking chambers, allowing them to pass a bevy of bills dealing with health care, unions, taxes and other issues that House Democrats have long bottled up.
Republicans have dominated the Senate since 2000, so any vetoes by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear would be likely to get swatted down by a Republican majority in both chambers.
State Democratic Party chairman Daniel Logsdon and state Republican Party chairman Steve Robertson each expressed confidence that all their party incumbents will survive in the House races, some of which are attracting spending by out-of-state political groups.
"We feel the House Democratic candidates will be able to withstand all of the out-of-state negative attacks that are coming their way," Logsdon said.
Robertson said all Republican incumbents in the House are "well positioned to win in November," and Democrats "fail to realize what's going on in their districts."
"People are frustrated with the president, and there are clear distinctions on major issues," Robertson said.
Here's a look at 13 of the most competitive House races involving incumbents.
Democratic incumbent Will Coursey of Symsonia in Graves County has been the subject of headlines no politician would want.
Nicole Cusic, a legislative staff member, has filed a lawsuit against Coursey in Franklin Circuit Court, alleging that he took steps that led to her transfer after she accused him of "inappropriate conduct" toward female staffers and interns in 2012.
Coursey, who has represented the district that includes Lyon and Marshall counties and part of McCracken County since 2008, has denied any wrongdoing and has filed a defamation lawsuit against Cusic in Marshall Circuit Court.
Coursey, a bank official, faces Keith Travis of Benton in the fall race.
Travis is vice president of development for Murray Calloway County Hospital. He also is a former chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education. He served five years on the Marshall County Board of Education and left that position when former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton appointed him to the state board, where he served 10 years.
Travis' campaign has not yet raised Coursey's legal problems, but Republicans say voters in the district are well aware of them.
Republicans view this race as a take-away from the Democrats, but Gov. Steve Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo have been working hard for Coursey.
Democrat Gerald Watkins, a community college political science professor from Paducah, has represented this district in McCracken County since 2013.
He is being challenged this fall by Republican Randy Bridges of Paducah, a Realtor.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district 69 percent to 31 percent, but the district has grown more conservative in recent years. The race is considered a toss-up.
Republican Suzanne Miles of Owensboro won this seat last December by only 112 votes out of nearly 7,000 cast in a special election. The district includes Union County and parts of Henderson and Daviess counties.
Miles, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, replaced Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis, who resigned last September amid allegations that he sexually harassed female state House staffers. Lawsuits against Arnold, who has denied any wrongdoing, have not yet been resolved.
Democrats want this seat back in their camp. Their candidate is John Warren, a farmer, from Owensboro. His father, David Warren, was a member of the Daviess County Fiscal Court for 21 years.
Democrat Jim Glenn of Owensboro, an associate business administration professor at Owensboro Community and Technical College, has represented this district in Daviess County since 2007.
He won each of his last two elections by slightly more than 200 votes, and his opponent this year appears to be stronger than previous challengers.
Alan Braden, who owns Braden Financial Services, is the Republican candidate. He has served on the Owensboro City Commission and has been chairman of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce.
Republicans, who already occupy the Owensboro mayor's office and the office of the Daviess County judge-executive, believe the time has arrived to win this state House seat.
Republican Kevin Bratcher of Louisville has represented this district in Jefferson County since 1997.
This fall, Bratcher, an education supervisor, is being challenged by Democrat Dave Stengel, who recently retired after 16 years as Commonwealth's Attorney in Jefferson County. He was a state representative from 1993 to 1996.
When Stengel left the state House in 1996, Bratcher replaced him.
Both candidates have high name recognition in the district.
Generally speaking, the best time to knock off political opponents is during their first re-election campaign.
Democratic incumbent James Kay of Versailles won this seat, which covers Woodford County and parts of Franklin and Fayette counties, last year in a special election.
Kay, an attorney, faces opposition this fall from Ryan Schwartz, a Versailles attorney, who calls the federal Affordable Care Act pushed by President Barack Obama a "broken and mismanaged government health care system."
The district primarily is Democratic. But Woodford County, where most of the district's voters live, sided with Republican Andy Barr of Lexington over Democrat Ben Chandler of Versailles in the 2012 6th District race for Congress.
Lynn Bechler of Crittenden County is a Republican House freshman who Democrats think is vulnerable in a district that includes Caldwell, Livingston and Crittenden counties and part of Christian County.
Bechler, a retired IBM executive, is being challenged by Democrat Jarrod Jackson, a Caldwell County attorney who describes himself as a conservative.
Bechler's campaign website and Facebook page prominently feature a photo of him with U.S. Sen Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green.
Jackson says in a campaign video that he is "Western Kentucky born, Western Kentucky raised and Western Kentucky committed."
Democratic incumbent Jim Gooch of Providence is being taken to task in one of the more unusual campaign video ads of the election. It mocks him for tossing women's panties on a table and then quibbling over their color.
Republican Dianne Burns Mackey of Utica is trying to unseat Gooch in the district that includes McLean and Webster counties and part of Daviess and Hopkins counties.
Her ad against Gooch plays on media reports last April that two female legislative employees who have accused former Democratic state Rep. John Arnold of sexual harassment said Gooch acted inappropriately on an out-of-state trip for legislative business.
The legislative staffers said Gooch threw a pair of women's panties onto a dining table at a restaurant during the Southern Legislative Conference held in Mobile, Ala., last year.
In an interview with Kentucky Public Radio, Gooch didn't deny the allegations, and admitted to possibly brandishing a woman's "personal item" in front of Legislative Research Commission employees during a meal.
"There was an incidence where some lady who I did not know, I did not solicit it, she was obviously very drunk, who slipped an item, a personal item, in my pocket," Gooch told Kentucky Public Radio. "And I was kind of taken back by it, and I actually told some other people there ... 'You're not going to believe what happened.' And, you know, I may have showed them that personal item, but it was more or less, 'I can't believe this happened.'"
Gooch said everyone at the table laughed and no one was offended at the dinner.
On her campaign website, Mackey, a retired teacher, farmer and small business owner, calls Gooch "the worst legislator that is currently a member of the Democratic Party."
Gooch, who runs a steel company that primarily does work for coal companies, is chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. He has been in the House since 1995.
Republican incumbent David Floyd, owner of a continuing care retirement community in Nelson County, has been in the state House since 2005.
Democratic challenger Audrey Haydon, a Bardstown attorney, is distantly related to former state Rep. Jodie Haydon of Bardstown.
The two political parties are going after each other in what is becoming a nasty race.
In August, the Nelson County Gazette obtained an audio recording of a call to voters in the district that spoke positively of Haydon and rattled off criticisms of Floyd, especially his legislation to abolish the death penalty.
The publication said the phone call said it was conducted by Public Policy Polling, the Raleigh, North Carolina-based polling firm that has typically conducted surveys for Democrats. The message did not identify who paid for the calls. Such a disclosure isn't required by Kentucky law.
Democrat Terry Mills, who is retired from a 35-year career working for the U.S. Social Security Administration, started representing this district in 2010. It covers Green, Marion and LaRue counties.
Republican J. Alex LaRue of Hodgenville wants to take his place.
LaRue is the owner of LaRue Insurance Agency and operates an online business, Larueclassics.com, that provides insurance protection for classic car owners.
He is on the Hodgenville City Council and is a past president of the LaRue County Chamber of Commerce.
Republican incumbent Kim King of Harrodsburg, a farmer and fitness trainer in the House since 2011, is facing a political opponent with a name familiar in the law-making chamber.
Democratic challenger Jacqueline Coleman of Nicholasville is the daughter of former state Rep. Jack Coleman of Burgin, who was in the House from 1991 to 2004.
Jacqueline Coleman coaches the East Jessamine High School girls' basketball team and played college and pro basketball.
The House district includes Mercer and Washington counties and part of Jessamine County.
Most of the district's voters live in Mercer, which would seem to favor King. But Coleman notes on her campaign website that she is "a fifth generation Mercer Countian."
Ryan Quarles of Georgetown, another Republican who has been in the House since 2011, faces Democrat Chuck Tackett, also of Georgetown, in a district that includes Owen County and parts of Scott and Fayette counties.
Quarles, a farmer and attorney, has been a target of Democrats since he defeated Charles Hoffman in 2010.
Quarles says on his campaign website that he can work across party lines. He notes that he is one of only a few legislators to sponsor legislation that became law in his first two terms in office. One clarified voter instructions and another dealt with youth referees.
Tackett, a farmer, is a magistrate on the Scott County Fiscal Court.
Republican Gary "Toby" Herald of Beattyville is another freshman Democrats want to knock off, but Democrats actually added more Republican voters to the 91st District when they redrew legislative boundaries last year. It includes Breathitt, Estill, Lee and Owsley counties and part of Madison County.
Herald, involved in the construction industry, is being challenged this fall by Democrat Cluster Howard of Jackson, dean of student life at Hazard Community and Technical College.