The Ticket

Obama, Romney in (mostly) friendly duel of wits

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney mocked themselves — and each other, and Joe Biden, and others — late Thursday during a joke-filled annual dinner that served as a truce of sorts in their hard-fought war for the White House.

Speaking first, Romney repeatedly underlined that he doesn't drink alcohol, quipping that he's usually invited to functions to be "the designated driver," and that Catholic Cardinal Dolan would signal his displeasure by turning Obama's wine into water — or the former Massachusetts governor's water into wine.

Addressing the crowd in the customary black tuxedo and white bow tie, Romney joked that "it's nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house."

Two of the Republican's best lines came at the expense of the press, which many of his supporters see as biased in Obama's favor. Romney denied accusing reporters of bias and observed each side has its role to play: "My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country. And their job is to make sure nobody else finds about it." He also quipped that early headlines from the dinner read: "Obama embraced by Catholics; Romney dines with rich people."

Taking aim at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Romney noted that the Democrat was "impressive" and already being floated as a  possible future presidential nominee.

"He may be getting a little ahead of himself," Romney said. "I mean 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?" That drew laughs from an audience familiar with Romney's résumé.

Campaigns are hard, Romney said, and he and Obama "are each very lucky to have one person who's always in our corner, someone who we can lean on, and someone who's a comforting presence without whom we wouldn't be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife, Ann. He has Bill Clinton."

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"I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening -- 'cause he will laugh at anything," Romney said, referring to the vice president's debate performance against Paul Ryan. Looking at his own first debate with Obama, Romney offered to detail how he had prepared.

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

Romney took more than a few shots at Obama. He joked that the president, eyeing their wealthy audience at the post Waldorf-Astoria hotel, was probably thinking "so little time, so much to redistribute." And he mocked Obama's "you didn't built that" campaign flub, saying that St Peter defied "so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say, 'If you got a church, you didn't build that.' "

Obama opened by urging "Everyone, please take your seats -- otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them." His routine was more self-deprecating than Romney's, but he gave as good as he got.

"As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy at our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice, long nap I had in the first debate," Obama said. "Although it turns out millions of Americans focused in on the second debate who didn't focus in on the first debate -- and I happened to be one of them."

"I learned that there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift," said the president, a reference to the first debate falling on his wedding anniversary.

Obama turned a different Cuomo joke, saying that he was glad to be "with a man whose father was a popular governor, and who knows what it's like to run a major Northeastern state, and who could very well be president someday -- and I'm hoping it is Andrew Cuomo."

"Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in Midtown.  I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown," Obama said.

Making his own "you didn't build that" reference, Obama joked that while in college at Columbia University he "loved to go to old Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built -- although he really did not build that."

Looking back at his history-making 2008 run for the White House, Obama said: "I have to admit some things have changed since then."

"I've heard some people say, "Barack, you're not as young as you used to be.  Where's that golden smile?  Where's that pep in your step?"  And I say, 'Settle down, Joe, I'm trying to run a Cabinet meeting,'" the president joked.

"Sometimes it feels like this race has dragged on forever. But Paul Ryan assured me that we've only been running for two hours and 50-something minutes," the president said, in a reference to Ryan misstating his marathon time.

"Of course, the economy is on everybody's minds.  The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office.  I don't have a joke here.  I just thought it would be useful to remind everybody that the unemployment rate is at the lowest it's been since I took office," the president said.

And he got in a shot at Romney's gaffe-plagued overseas trip earlier this year.

"Some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas.  And I have to say, I'm impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem," Obama said.

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