COLUMBIA — South Carolina's Republican loyalists gathered here Friday to rally around the belief that the GOP is the party that is right for America.

If you go

The South Carolina Republican Party State Convention is today at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln St. Events begin at 9 a.m.Delegates will elect officers, including a new party chairman to replace outgoing Katon Dawson.

Orangeburg native and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee delivered the keynote address at the 42nd annual Silver Elephant Banquet, which kicked off the party's weekend events. Today at the state convention, Republicans will elect a new chairman to replace outgoing Katon Dawson.

Corker, who was elected to the Senate in 2006, said Republicans must undertake three pursuits: defend, reclaim and lead.

"Contrary to popular opinion, I actually think this is a great time to be a Republican," Corker said. "There haven't been too many times in our nation's history when Republicans had a more important role to play.

"We are facing a terrible economic crisis, and at the helm is an administration that unfortunately does not share some of our core beliefs. This new administration fundamentally believes in a much-bigger government, fundamentally believes in less individual freedom and in the redistribution of wealth. Bottom line: They believe in equal outcomes while we believe in equal opportunity."

Prior to his time in the Senate, Corker was appointed Tennessee Commissioner of Finance and Administration in 1994 and went on to be elected mayor of Chattanooga in 2002.

South Carolina U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint said the party will be vibrant and successful in the state and country going forward.

"Our message has to be: There's a better way," Graham said.

DeMint said the GOP's problems came when the party became too invested in being the majority, took on the role of the big spenders and misbehaved morally in public office. On top of that, he said, "We forgot to explain to the American people the benefits of freedom."

While Republicans lost the White House and are the minority party in Congress, the S.C. Legislature is still dominated by the GOP, which also is the party of two-term Gov. Mark Sanford.

On Friday, state House Republicans added one more to the ranks. Rep. Dennis Moss of Gaffney switched parties after first being elected to the position as a Democrat in 2006. Of the 124 House members, 73 are now Republican.

At the convention, party activists are expected to elect Karen Floyd of Spartanburg to succeed Dawson. She narrowly lost the race for state education superintendent in 2006 to Democrat Jim Rex.

"It's time for a change," Dawson said. "A fresh look at politics does not hurt, especially inside party politics."

Dawson held the position for seven years. Earlier this year, he came within eight votes of being elected chairman of the Republican National Committee.

About 1,000 people turned out for the banquet. Tickets started at $100.