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..."

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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. Instead of talking about his home state with the usual lip-quivering pride, Romney uses it as a laugh line.

“There are more Republicans in this room tonight than I have in my state!” he also said in South Carolina.

But some 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 Berry, political-science professor at Tufts University in Medford. “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 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 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.

Romney declined to be interviewed for this story. For now, he is still just a governor. As far as the presidency goes, a spokeswoman said: “He’s testing the waters.”

Nevertheless, it’s clear he’s trying something new. Exhibit A of how politicians usually treat their home states: President Bush. Texas has served as both a showcase for his educational reforms and a symbol of his grounding in the real world — a place where he was proud to wear bluejeans and cut brush.

When Romney speaks to out-of-state audiences, he uses a different blueprint. He does describe policy successes achieved during his term as governor. But he also favors comedic riffs depicting him as a bemused and besieged “red dot” in a sea of liberalism.

Presidential-campaign historians say they understand why Romney is doing it: He must overcome the same “liberal Massachusetts” stereotype that has stymied previous Democratic presidential candidates from Massachusetts, such as Sen. John Kerry and former Gov. Michael Dukakis.

But the same historians are hard-pressed to come up with any previous candidates who have tried the same tack.

Yanek Mieczkowski, a presidential historian at Dowling College in New York, said that Lyndon Johnson had to separate himself from racist elements in Texas, and Ronald Reagan did the same with the hippie fringe in California.

But Romney is “much more overt,” he said. “You have to be cautious about criticizing your own,” Mieczkowski said.