In a way, the Friday noon news conference held by the Utah County Republican Party typifies the challenges the local GOP faces this election year.

Local Republican Chairman Steven R. Shallenberger wanted to formally announce the upcoming county nominating convention, introduce local Republican candidates and give a sneak preview of the local party platform.So the county GOP scheduled a press conference on the steps of the Utah County Courthouse.

But nobody came.

Nobody, that is, except people with a direct interest - about a dozen local GOP candidates, a couple of their family members and one newspaper reporter.

Maybe the other news organizations were not notified. Maybe all their reporters were busy covering more important stories, or maybe they were on vacation or something. The county GOP has to hope so.

More ominous for local party leaders is the thought that maybe no one else cared enough to attend.

Republicans have dominated Utah County government for so long (it's been 15 years since a Democrat held a County Commission seat) that the party here may be taken for granted. It apparently has been by reporters. GOP leaders can only hope that won't happen with voters as well.

Local Republicans privately blame party complacency for the 1986 loss of two Utah County legislative seats to Democrats. Shallenberger even alluded to loss Friday, pledging the party will not be caught "asleep at the switch" in a particular legislative race this year.

Democrats hold just four of 16 state Senate and House seats in the county, but they're pushing hard to build upon that foothold.

And while they ultimately may not win a commission seat or more legislative seats this year, local Demos appear to have some legitimate reasons to think they can.

For one thing, local issues - such as mismanagement at Timp Mental Health and the abandonment by Republicans of the traditional ideal of proportional representation on the County Commission - appear to favor Democrats.

For another, local Demos feel they can benefit from the ticket-splitting many traditionally Republican voters are likely do this November.

The reality of GOP ticket-splitting was forcefully driven home earlier this month when a self-described conservative Republican from Spanish Fork asked Democrat Ted Wilson how the man could explain to his Republican friends his intention to vote for Wilson.

There are whisperings, at least among local rank-and-file Republicans, that county party officials may be forced to privately encourage ticket-splitting.

The thinking goes like this. As the November election draws near, if it appears Bangerter can't win or is unlikely to win re-election, the party may have to unofficially encourage voters to vote Republican in County Commission and legislative races regardless of who they vote for to fill the governor's mansion.

The purpose of that, the speculators say, would be to keep what may look like an inevitable Bangerter loss from harming the chances of local Republican candidates and thus perhaps handing election victories to Democrats.

Of course, GOP faithful who vote a straight ticket would not need such encouragement. But marginal Republicans and independent voters might.

The local GOP leadership is unlikely to become involved in such an unofficial campaign. But the fact that other Republicans are even considering the scenario has to make them nervous.