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Romney, Obama Trade Jokes At Al Smith Dinner


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning. The president and his Republican rival are both holding rallies today in swing states, meaning they'll likely be taking swings at each other's policies and political positions.

MONTAGNE: Last night, though, the two men switched from attack lines to laugh lines. Mr. Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney offered a little stand-up comedy at the annual Al Smith Dinner, a fundraiser for Catholic Charities sponsored by the archdiocese of New York. NPR's Scott Horsley was there.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Since the days of Kennedy and Nixon, the Al Smith Dinner has become a traditional stop in the intense final weeks of a presidential campaign, a momentary respite from the near-constant mudslinging. Mud would be conspicuously out of place at this white tie affair in New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, but just because the players clean up doesn't mean the game is over.

Mitt Romney poked fun at himself, at the president, and at the news media.


MITT ROMNEY: And I've already seen early reports from tonight's dinner. Headline: Obama Embraced By Catholics, Romney Dines with Rich People.

HORSLEY: President Obama joked that for all their differences, he and his Republican rival still have a good deal in common.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Beginning with our unusual names. Actually, Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name.

HORSLEY: The only other times the two men have shared a stage this fall have been debates. Mr. Obama was much more energetic during their second debate. He joked that's because he was well rested after napping during their first one.


OBAMA: Of course there's a lot of things I learned from that experience. For example, I learned that there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift.

HORSLEY: Governor Romney kidded that he had a special training regimen to get ready for the debates.


ROMNEY: First, refrain from alcohol for 65 years before the debate. Second, find the biggest available straw man and then just mercilessly attack it. Big Bird didn't even see it coming.

HORSLEY: The Al Smith Dinner draws a who's who of New York business, cultural and political elites. Some of them became punchlines as well. The master of ceremonies toasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the same kind of oversized soft drink Bloomberg has outlawed. Romney targeted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who's thought to harbor his own White House ambitions.


ROMNEY: Let me get this straight. The man has put in one term as a governor. He has a father who happened to be a governor. And he thinks that's enough to run for president.

HORSLEY: There were no instant polls last night to measure the candidates on their material or their comic timing, but both got their share of laughs and applause. The president and Governor Romney both had kind words for each other as good husbands and fathers. Politics took a back seat, if only for a little while.


OBAMA: In less than three weeks, voters in states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida will decide this incredibly important election. Which begs the question, what are we doing here?

HORSLEY: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, sat between the candidates during the dinner and he got the last word.


CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN: Might I suggest that this annual dinner actually shows the United States of America and the Catholic Church at their best.

HORSLEY: Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has tangled with President Obama over abortion and birth control, and with congressional Republicans over proposed spending cuts that the church says could hurt the most vulnerable in society. Dolan argues that the lesson of the Al Smith Dinner is that you can accomplish a lot more by inviting folks of different political loyalties to an uplifting evening rather than closing the door to them. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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