Two days after their combative face-off at a town-hall-style debate, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney took a break from the acrimony to poke fun at each other and themselves at a New York charity roast.
“You may have noticed I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate,” Obama said last night at the 67th annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a gala at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.
The candidates, wearing white tie and tails for the event, sat on either side of their host, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Republican presidential nominee Romney joked about his own wealth.
“A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes: blue jeans in the morning perhaps, a suit for a lunch fundraiser, a sport coat for dinner,” he said. “But it’s nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.”
The event, hosted by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, honors the state’s former Democratic governor and this year raised $5 million for poor children. In 1928, Smith was the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee of a major party, losing to Republican Herbert Hoover.
In keeping with the event’s history of political wit, Romney, 65, invoked the Republican Party’s criticism that Obama wants to redistribute the nation’s wealth.
“We’re down to the final months of the president’s term,” he said. “As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking: ‘So little time, so much to redistribute.’”
Obama, 51, responded in kind: “Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in Midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in midtown.”
Obama also recalled his days as a student in the city, strolling through Central Park, saying he “loved to go to old Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built.”
“Although he didn’t really build that,” Obama said poking fun at his own comment in a speech in July that Republicans seized upon as denigrating small-business owners.
“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” Obama said at the time.
The president also said he and his rival share some similarities, including unusual names.
“Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name,” Obama said, referring to his middle name of Hussein.
The dinner has been a customary stop for politicians for decades. By tradition, presidential candidates share the dais, teasing their rivals and mocking themselves.
Romney also took aim at the media, saying the headlines he expects to see after the event include, “Obama embraced by Catholics; Romney dines with rich people.”
Obama’s attendance comes at a time when his relations with the Catholic Church are frayed. The administration decided earlier this year that women who work for religious-affiliated hospitals and universities must be provided access to free contraception through their health insurance, even while the law exempts churches and other religious institutions.
In an Aug. 14 posting on the archdiocese blog, Dolan wrote that he received “stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama (and by the way, even some objecting to the invitation to Governor Romney).”
Civility and Patriotism
Dolan wrote that the dinner is intended to be “an evening of friendship, civility, and patriotism, to help those in need, not to endorse either candidate,” and is in keeping with the church’s promotion of dialogue.
Other attendees included Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who isn’t affiliated with either political party, Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Blackstone Group LP Chairman Stephen Schwarzman.
Romney and Obama concluded their remarks by exchanging compliments.
“Our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud,” Romney said.
Obama returned the praise, saying of Romney: “I admire him very much as a family man and loving father, and those are two titles that will always matter more than any political ones.”
John McCormick in New York City at firstname.lastname@example.org