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Massachusetts Governor Makes His State the Butt of His Jokes

Gov. Mitt Romney   addresses the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan on Saturday.  Romney, who is considering a 2008 presidential bid, is trying to distance himself from the Bay State's reputation for liberalism.
Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan on Saturday. Romney, who is considering a 2008 presidential bid, is trying to distance himself from the Bay State's reputation for liberalism. (By John L. Russell -- Associated Press)

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By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 26, 2005

BOSTON -- Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, exploring a possible presidential run in 2008, has a message for his fellow Republicans.

Take my state. Please!

"Being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts," he told a GOP audience in South Carolina, "is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."

Bada-bing. For months, this blue-state governor has been pitching himself to conservatives in a way that campaign experts say is highly unusual -- perhaps even historic. Instead of talking about his home state with the usual lip-quivering pride, Romney uses it like a vaudeville comic would use his mother-in-law: as a laugh line.

As in: "There are more Republicans in this room tonight than I have in my state!" -- another joke he used in South Carolina.

The problem: Some people here in Massachusetts are not laughing. Political observers say Romney may have put himself in trouble for next year, when the "vegetarian convention" has another gubernatorial election scheduled.

"For an incumbent governor to make fun of the state seemed gratuitous," said Jeffrey M. Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "I think people sort of felt he was flipping the bird to voters here."

Romney, 58, is a transplant from Michigan who raised his family here and gained prominence as a Boston businessman. He has an actor's good looks, ample charisma as a speaker and a résumé that includes turning around the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

He was elected governor in 2002 -- becoming the fourth consecutive Republican to hold that office. Bay State politicos explain this trend by saying that their Republicans usually tend to be moderate, and their majority Democratic Party tends to stage death-match-style gubernatorial primaries that leave candidates exhausted and broke.

For now, Romney is still just a governor and not officially a candidate for anything. He has not even said whether he will run for reelection, promising a decision on that this fall.

As far as the presidency goes, a spokeswoman described Romney's current status this way: "He's testing the waters. It's not a full-time testing of the waters."

Nevertheless, even in the water-testing stage, it is clear that he is trying something new.


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