NEW YORK – Just two days after many heated back-and-forth exchanges at their second debate, President Obama and Mitt Romney shrugged off the attacks and opted for humor on Thursday night while sharing a stage at the Alfred E. Smith charity dinner here.
“I’m pleased that the president’s here. We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened,” Romney quipped.
Obama pointed out that it was the third time the two candidates have found themselves in the same room, after the first two debates. “Some of you may have noticed I had a lot more energy in our second debate,” he said. “I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.”
The appearance of both presidential candidates at the annual charity dinner dates back to 1960, when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy both took the stage to honor Smith, the former New York governor and first Catholic presidential candidate. It has since become a tradition for the two men running for the highest office in the land to offer humorous and often self-depreciating remarks at the white-tie event, held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
Both the president and Romney used the opportunity to crack wise about their own perceived shortcomings. The Republican nominee commented on the large amount of wardrobe changes he has to make on the campaign trail -- everything form jeans to suits and sport coats.
“But it’s nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house,” he joked, referring to his tuxedo and his wife’s black-and-white gown.
Obama spent a good part of his opening remarks knocking his first debate performance in Denver, which took place on his 20th wedding anniversary to wife Michelle. “I learned that there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift,” he said. “Take note, gentlemen.”
But both men also used the occasion to get in some good-natured jabs at their opponent.
“As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room,” Romney said, “with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. So little time. So much to redistribute.”
He later told the story of the apostle St. Peter, who was told to build a church “upon this rock” in the Bible. “The story’s all the more inspiring when you consider that he had so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say: If you’ve got a church, you didn’t build that,” Romney joked, referring to a line of Obama's that has become one of the Republican attacks against him.
Obama was ready with a retort, telling the New York crowd that he loved visiting the old Yankee Stadium. “The house that Ruth built,” he said, “although he really did not build that. I hope everybody’s aware of that.”
The president also ribbed Romney over a foreign trip he took over the summer where he was criticized in both foreign and national press for perceived gaffes. Obama compared the overseas trip to one he took as a candidate four years earlier.
“I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas.,” he said. “ And I have to say that I’m impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem.”
Both men chose to end their speeches on a positive note, offering praise to their opponents and to the foundation at whose event they spoke. Romney complimented the president as a man with “many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud.” Obama repaid the gesture, saying he admired his rival for being a family man and loving father, “two titles that will always matter more than any political ones.”
The two men will meet for a final time before the election at the last presidential debate in Boca Raton, Fla., on Monday evening, just 15 days before voters head to the polls. The president noted the oddity of speaking at an event in New York -- most definitely a non-swing state -- with so little time left in the election.
“In less than three weeks, voters in states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida will decide this incredibly important election,” he said to a smattering of laughter. “Which begs the question – what are we doing here?”
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