US Election: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney trade jokes at Al Smith dinner
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney mocked the election and each other during speeches at the Al Smith dinner.
By Raf Sanchez, Washington
5:33AM BST 19 Oct 2012
A Democrat, a Catholic cardinal and a Republican walked into a hotel ballroom.
This wasn’t the set up of a joke but rather the seating plan for the Al Smith dinner, a white-tie charity event where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
The two candidates both raised riotous laughter at the fundraising gala in Manhattan, enjoying a few hours of political ceasefire as they sat on either side of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, America’s most senior Catholic.
Obama and Romney with Cardinal Timothy Dolan during the Archdiocese of New York’s 67th Annual Alfred. E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner (AP)
Mr Romney was the first to take the stage at the event, named after the former New York governor who in 1928 became the first Catholic to become a major candidate for the White House.
The Republican – who once awkwardly told an interviewer: “I love humour” – is not well-known for his ability to tell jokes.
But within moments he had the crowd of politicians, celebrities and millionaires laughing as he described how the strict dress code gave him a chance to “relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house”.
Nodding towards the ill-tempered presidential debate earlier this week, Mr Romney said he and the President “were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night had never happened”.
He repeatedly made fun of his Mormon faith’s prohibition on alcohol saying “usually when I get invited to gatherings like this it’s just to be the designated driver” and joking that the Cardinal might spitefully turn his water into wine.
Mr Romney said that life on the campaign trail could be gruelling but that both he and Mr Obama had “someone who’s a comforting presence without whom we wouldn’t be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife Ann and he has Bill Clinton”.
The Republican also reprised the old refrain that America’s “liberal media” will always look to undermine conservative candidates. He imagined a headline for the night’s event reading: “Obama embraced by Catholics, Romney dines with rich people”.
“My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country and [the media's] job is to make sure no one else finds out about it,” he told the audience, which included many of the US’s best-known television anchors.
While Mr Romney was accompanied by his wife Ann, the President appeared without Michelle Obama. But he saluted her in her absence, saying that voters across the country told him the same thing: “Honestly, we were hoping see Michelle”.
Mr Obama told the applauding crowd to take their seats “otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them before mercilessly ridiculing his own half-hearted performance in the first presidential debate.
“As 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.”
He added that he didn’t lose heart because millions of Americans paid attention in the second debate even if they didn’t in the first. “I happened to be one of them,” he quipped.
Mr Obama offered a preview of his strategy for the third debate, which will focus on foreign policy. “Spoiler alert: we got bin Laden,” he said.
He noted that shortly before his last appearance at the dinner in 2008, he returned from an overseas trip but was attacked “because I was so popular with our allies overseas.”
“I have to say I’m impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem,” he said, in a mocking reference to the Republican’s disastrous trip to London on the eve of the Olympics.
The President, whose full name is Barack Hussein Obama, suggested that despite their political differences the two men have much in common “beginning with our unusual names”.
“Actually Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name,” Mr Obama lamented.
As is traditional both men ended their speech with a few serious moments in which they praised each other and vowed to always put country before party.
Mr Obama described his opponent as a “family man and a loving father” and while Mr Romney said: “Our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud”.
And with that, as laughter and the clink of fine china still echoed through the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, the two candidates shook hands and headed back to the campaign trail.