NEW YORK – President Obama and Mitt Romney squeezed a comedy break in between debates last night, drawing laughs at a New York charity dinner that's long been a required stop for anyone trying to capture the White House.
Light-hearted jabs about the deficit, alleged bias in the press, Romney's wealth and Big Bird showed a different side of the two men at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York to benefit needy children. The quip-a-thon came just two days after the presidential contenders squared off in a contentious debate a short drive away at Hofstra University.
"I've already seen early reports from tonight's dinner," said Romney, who earlier in the day learned that the latest Gallup poll showed him surging to a 52-45 lead nationally. "Headline: Obama embraced by Catholics, Romney dines with rich people."
"People seem to be very curious about how to prepare -- first refrain from alcohol for 65 years, then get the biggest straw man and mercilessly attack it," said Romney, a teetotaling Mormon who said at the first debate that he'd cut funding for public broadcasting. "Big Bird didn't even see it coming."
Obama poked fun at himself and the media, referring to his first, lackluster debate performance, which came on his and first lady Michelle Obama's 20th anniversary: "I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews," Obama said. "Four years ago gave him a thrill up his leg, this time I gave him a stroke.
"I learned there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift," he added.
The men will put the gloves back on Monday night, when they have their third and final debate in South Florida. But for one evening, both seemed to enjoy a respite from what has been a bruising campaign. The event was expected to raise $5 million for Catholic charities, and was overseen by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Romney also took a swipe at Obama's overseeing of the swelling national deficit, saying, "The president's remarks are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 trillion."
Obama took a different kind of spending jab at Romney, whose net worth has been estimated at $250 million: "Earlier today I went shopping at some stores in Midtown," Obama said. "I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown."
As the two men milked the room for laughs, Romney made light of Vice President Joe Biden's performance in his own debate against Paul Ryan, in which Biden was criticized in some quarters for grinning and laughing inappropriately: "I was hoping Biden would be along, because he'll laugh at anything," Romney said, drawing guffaws.
Garbed in a tuxedo, Romney told the audience, "It's nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house." Of Obama, Romney said: "You have to wonder what he's thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute."
Obama said he has been preparing for the final debate with Romney on Monday, which will focus on foreign policy.
"Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden," Obama said.