Newly elected Beltrami County Republican Chairman Ken Cobb speaks optimism, but also wants to see America restored to the greatness it held under Ronald Reagan.

"There are many in our party, I'm afraid, who have given up hope," he said Saturday morning. "We're sliding into socialism -- we've lost -- the country's doomed -- we're sinking into moral and societal decay."

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The second-most contagious thing in all the world is enthusiasm, said Cobb. The first most contagious thing is the lack of enthusiasm.

"I have a very simple message for you today," said Cobb, speaking to 45 delegates and alternates to the off-year Beltrami County Republican convention at Beltrami Electric Cooperative's meeting room.

"This is still America," he said. "It is time we return to Reagan's optimism, because this is still America. We must reject those who think we're defeated because this is still America. We must believe we are still the shining city on the hill. We're still the last beacon of hope in the free world, because this is still America."

Cobb, an agent with Pine Country Insurance in Bemidji, was elected to a two-year term as the county party's chairman, succeeding Kath Molitor, who served several terms.

The delegates also elected Chris Hogan as co-vice chairman for the 7th Congressional District part of Beltrami County and Molitor as co-vice chairwoman for the 8th District part. They re-elected Barb Zentak as treasurer and elected Ann Fleet as secretary.

None were opposed for election. Also elected were Cobb as delegate and Darrell Carter as alternate for the county's 7th District to the State GOP Central Committee, and Molitor as delegate and Fleet as alternate for the 8th District.

Cobb, in an emotional plea, charged delegates with starting now to drum up enthusiasm for Republican ideals and candidates. The party as a tough road head, as it will try in 2010 to knock off a slate of Democrats -- Sens. Rod Skoe of Clearbrook and Mary Olson of Bemidji, and Reps. Brita Sailer of Park Rapids and John Persell of Bemidji.

"How are we going to proceed?" Cobb asked delegates. "Are we going to concede defeat? That we, as a party, have lost the battle to liberalism in America?"

Delegates responded with "no," with Cobb returning, "This is still America."

Cobb held the same question/response for a number of issues, including asking if they were willing to concede defeat "that we have started an irreversible slide into full socialism," "that we're turning the global war on terrorism into something more soft or gentle or warm and fuzzy," "that we're going to replace hard-line stance against the axis of evil with reassuring video messages that appease," "that we're going to spend the money of our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids -- a trillion here and a trillion there -- at the rate of $1 billion an hour?"

Also, "will we concede defeat that we will openly contemplate government seizure of private corporations at the will of a federal bureaucrat?" Cobb asked, referring to the federal bailout of insurance and financial houses and billions to automakers. "This is still America -- this is not the Union of Socialist American Republics."

He talked of the economic "malaise" 30 years ago under then-President Carter, saying the "misery index" saw double-digit inflation and unemployment and a home-buying crisis. There were long lines for gasoline purchases, and 56 Americans were held hostage in Iran despite a bungled rescue attempt.

"There was a general consensus in America that the glory days had passed, the nation was in decline and patriotism was an embarrassing word," Cobb said.

But, in 1980, former actor and California Gov. Reagan hit the scene and exuded optimism in running for president, Cobb said.

"This man did not succumb to the pessimism of the day," he said. "He came out with a campaign slogan saying, 'Let's make America great again.'"

Cobb cited several Reagan quotes, including one from his GOP nomination acceptance speech in 1984 that "America's best days are yet to come."

Pessimism, low morale and little hope for the future are trademarks of today's American society, he said. "It's up to you and me to keep America great, to continue to be optimists, to fight hard for the next year and a half and to believe with all our heart that this is still America."

Said Cobb: "We are a nation that has a government, not a government that has a nation."

Molitor, who served as convention chairwoman, said she was wearing her father's Medal of Honor as a symbol of liberty. He was a World War II POW in Germany, she said.

Molitor said the new liberal direction of the nation is away from the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that conservatives so cherish.

"Now is the time to be in the trenches and talk to our neighbors," she said., urging education of the issues and "the time and willingness to go out there."

Convincing liberal neighbors to vote conservative "might mean the loss of their friendship, but is it worth it?" Molitor asked, answering that it was, and indicated the Medal of Honor.

"Freedom is not free, we must fight for it," she said. "We have to speak out. We need to come back to the country our leaders fought for. ... Be the soldiers in the trenches here."

During a free-for-all session, delegates talked about limiting the time candidates can campaign in order to save on campaign spending, suggesting that run-off elections be held in the case of close elections such as the ongoing U.S. Senate race, support efforts that debunk global warming and that more candidates need to embrace true conservative values, not "liberal light."

Former Bemidji schools Superintendent Rollie Morud had a list of suggestions, starting with the need to support initiative and referendum in Minnesota. He would also extend lawmaker terms and limit them to one term.

"I'm a fiscal conservative, I wish we had more," Morud said.

Letters were read from some candidates for Minnesota Republican Party chairman, a post to be elected in June at the state convention. Ron Carey is said to seek re-election and Tony Sutton is challenging.

But Molitor also said former state. Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, will also run for the top spot. "Carrie stands for everything we believe in. ... She knows what we stand for and that we need to be heard."

Ruud served one term and was defeated in 2006 by Democrat Olson.