NEW YORK - 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 Joe Biden 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?'" Obama said. "And I say, 'Settle down, Joe. I'm trying to run a Cabinet meeting here.'"
Speaking of Biden's animated debate performance, Romney said: "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 Romney and 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 debate at Hofstra University.
The equally skillful performances Thursday night of Obama and Romney almost seemed jarring for how civil and self-deprecating each could be in the other's presence -- even as they lacerated their rivals' missteps. "We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened," Romney said.
Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, who like 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 Obama: "You have to wonder what he is thinking -- so little time, so much to redistribute."
He 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. Big Bird didn't even see it coming." And he joked that while he leans on his wife for comfort and support, he said Obama "has Bill Clinton."
Both men got a lot of laughs. Obama got his first while the audience was giving him a standing ovation: "Everyone please take your seats, otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them."
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."
Obama noted that he and Romney spent their free time before the dinner in somewhat different pursuits. "Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in Midtown. I understand Gov. Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown."
He also took a swipe at 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," Obama said, "but Paul Ryan assured me that we've only been running for 2 hours and 50-something minutes."