President Obama and Mitt Romney finally found something they could agree on during Thursday night's 67th annual Al Smith white-tie charity dinner: Jokes about Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. get big laughs.
"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?' " Mr. Obama said. "And I say, 'Settle down, Joe. I'm trying to run a cabinet meeting here.' "
Speaking of Mr. Biden's animated debate performance, Mr. Romney said: "I heard from the Federal Election Commission: From now on, whenever he appears on TV, there's a recording of me afterward that says, 'I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message.' " He added, "I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening because he will laugh at anything."
In a campaign notable for the contempt in which Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama at times seem to hold each other, the dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria to benefit Catholic charities — one of the quadrennial proving grounds on the road to the White House — also lived up to its other billing: a respite, however brief, from a campaign that has grown nastier as it has grown closer, illustrated just a few nights ago during a heated, in-your-face debate at Hofstra University.
The equally skillful performances on Thursday night of Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney almost seemed jarring for how civil and self-deprecating each could be in the other's presence — even as they lacerated their rivals' campaign missteps. "We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if
Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, who like Mr. Obama wore a black tuxedo and a white bow tie, began his speech by saying that, "It's nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house."
Noting the large and wealthy audience before them, he said of Mr. Obama: "You have to wonder what he is thinking — so little time, so much to redistribute." And he took a poke at Mr. Obama's "you didn't build that" statement, saying the apostle St. Peter had "so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say, 'If you got a church, you didn't build that.' "
Mr. Romney also shared his secrets for debate preparation: "First, refrain from alcohol for 65 years before the debate. Second, find the biggest available straw man, and then just mercilessly attack him.
Mr. Romney also took his swipes at the news media. "My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it," he said. And anticipating the coverage of the dinner, he joked that tomorrow's headlines would read, "Obama Embraced by Catholics; Romney Dines With Rich People."
He was quick to make light of his poor performance in the first debate. "As some of 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." He added, "I learned that there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift."
Mr. Obama noted that he and Mr. Romney spent their free time before the dinner in somewhat different pursuits. "Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in Midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown."
And he came prepared with his own retort to Mr. Romney's "build that" joke, reminiscing about how he used to "love to go to old Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built — although he really did not build that."
The president took a swipe at Mr. Romney's running mate, whose claim to have run a sub-three-hour marathon was later proven to be more than an hour too generous. "Sometimes it feels like this race has dragged on forever," Mr. Obama said, "but Paul Ryan assured me that we've only been running for 2 hours and 50-something minutes."
Mr. Obama said that while he and Mr. Romney both have unusual names, Mr. Romney, whose full name is Willard Mitt Romney, goes by his middle name. The president — whose full name is Barack Hussein Obama — joked, "I wish I could use my middle name."
He also mocked Mr. Romney's turbulent foreign trip, contrasting it with his own overseas trip in 2008, after which he said he was "attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas."
"I have to say I am impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem," he said.