New York's Irish American Republicans (IAR), the local chapter of the national organization dedicated to promoting the principles of the Republican Party, were in a celebratory mood at an awards ceremony in Langan's on West 47th Street on Thursday evening. The 12th annual IAR awards reception attracted a well healed crowd of over 60 guests to the upscale bar and restaurant to honor three prominent Irish American Republicans - William Flynn, chairman emeritus of Mutual of America; Long Island Congressman Peter King, honorary co-chair of the IAR; and Alana Sweeney, a member of the 2008 GOP platform committee. As hors d'oeuvres were served and the music played there was no trace of the gloom hanging over Republican circles in Washington since the departure of George W. Bush and Senator John McCain's failed bid to become his successor. An upbeat executive director of the IAR Grant Lally told the Irish Voice, "We have a lot of rising stars in the party. We're honoring a man here tonight of tremendous integrity and courage, a man who tells you where he stands, Peter King. We see him as a great leader for the future of this party." Lally acknowledged that the ongoing credit crisis and growing fears about recession and job losses were paramount in the American public's mind at the moment, but he added that the best route to secure prosperity was to protect the markets against all forms of government interference. "Historically the free market has been the engine that has created the most wealth, prosperity and security and the highest standard of living in the world. We as Republicans have to protect the free markets, because there are a lot of people who would - through the best of intentions or the worst of intentions - seeks to socialize and nationalize our economy. History teaches us this is not the way to develop a wealthy, prosperous healthy society." Asked what the GOP could do in the short term to address the current economic crisis, Lally responded, "We have to do our best to protect freedom, to protect the free market, and protect people's property rights to see that we get through this recession. It's a recession, not a depression. There have been many recessions before." King told the Irish Voice, "The American public likes President Obama and I understand why they do. But I think on issues like the economy and foreign policy the country is still center or center right. "We in the Republican Party didn't get our message out for the last few years, and there's a whole bunch of different reasons why that was, but the fact is I think we are in a good position now. The middle income people, people in middle income neighborhoods throughout the country, basically have center and center right beliefs and I think it's up to us to articulate that's also what we stand for." King made no secret of the fact that he had been relishing the prospect of a Senate run opposite Caroline Kennedy, and he was disappointed when it was suddenly snatched away. "I was looking forward to a race against Caroline Kennedy; I think that would have been a great race," added King, with a smile. King said he believed a race against a member of the famous Kennedy clan would have underscored which party he believes most Irish Americans now give their political support to. Now, he's focusing on his own election prospects in the longer term. "I am definitely running for the Senate. If I can get the money I will run, if not I will stay in the House and hopefully get reelected," King said. "I'm the top Republican on the Homeland Security committee; I can do a lot for New York City and Long Island. I do try to do as much media as I can. One mistake Republicans make is that we almost go into hiding, we don't take part in modern debates, for some reason we've gotten gun-shy, we've lost our bearing. I still think we can do well." The key to election success for the party was to invigorate its message once again, King said. "I think we have to show we are the party of working, middle-income families. We have to show that our tax policies, business policies and anti-Islamic terrorism polices are. We've lost our identity - a lot of it is identity - and we have to remind people what we stand for." King added that he personally admired Obama and his success reaching out to key demographics in the election. "I give President Obama credit for being able to appeal to middle of the road voters. But we never should have lost those voters. We did. We have to get them back," King said. "I'm not down at all. I look at the overall poll numbers around the country and the differences between Republicans and Democrats is not that big, especially in Congress. That helps us." In his award speech Flynn said that the party's economic agenda and its strong social values would ensure its continued relevance. Flynn also took a swipe at the Obama administration, saying that he has been aggrieved to hear what he called implicit criticism of the Bush administration in Obama's inaugural speech.