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Governor's agenda includes catching grief on his state

NEW YORK -- To be a Republican from Massachusetts at the GOP convention is not an easy task. The state, after all, is among the nation's most liberal and is the home of the Democratic nominee, Senator John F. Kerry.

So it is that a Bay State Republican makes the rounds in Manhattan with humor and a healthy dose of humility. Case in point: Governor Mitt Romney.

Yesterday, as Massachusetts' top Republican wended his way through Madison Square Garden, Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota approached. Before the Minnesotan could get beyond a hearty salutation, Romney blurted out his regret that his state was not expected to deliver votes for President Bush.

''This for me is a real thrill, because I come from Massachusetts. I can't do anything to be helpful to the team," Romney said. ''But I get to come here and pretend that this is the real world."

Coleman offered his own tale of recent years when Republicans struggled in Minnesota. ''If Minnesota can change, Massachusetts may not be far behind," he told Romney, who smiled gratefully.

It was a scene that played out time and again for Romney and Massachusetts delegates alike during the meet-and-greets of the GOP convention. Some offered quips, others light-hearted apologies, often in the form of preemptive strikes. Romney has taken to pointing that the state's Republicans may not deliver Massachusetts for Bush, but they donate generously to the campaign. Still, the digs came anyway, if unintended

At a breakfast meeting, a Republican staffer told Maine and Massachusetts delegates that a van traveling the country to register voters had been to Maine. But, she said, it had not made the trip to Massachusetts, a distinction that drew chuckles from the audience members, fully aware that Maine's electoral votes are considered up for grabs, while those in Massachusetts almost certainly are not.

Massachusetts Republican officials sought to ready delegates for the slights, telling them at a convention kickoff meeting to keep heads high despite their state's affiliation with the Democratic nominee.

''We know our hometown guy is on the other side," Darrell Crate, the Massachusetts GOP Party chairman, told delegates Sunday. But that was all right, he said, because delegates were in a unique position to speak to the unflattering qualities that Republicans seeks to attach to Kerry. ''You'll be bringing that message!"

To be sure, the Republican delegates could reassure themselves with the thought that one of their own holds the top elected position in their state.

Romney portrayed himself to out-of-state audiences as a risk-taking Republican in a Democratic state, though three other Republicans have served as Massachusetts governor since 1991.

''For a Republican, a business person, to run in Massachusetts is just nuts," Romney said in one of several radio interviews yesterday in Madison Square Garden. ''I must have lost my reason. But I decided I just couldn't watch the state go entirely one party. I am the lone Republican, but someone's got to do it."

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