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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Obama and Romney Share Stage Again Tonight, but This Time for Laughs

There hasn't been much smiling by President Obama and Mitt Romney since their tension-filled debate earlier this week.

That's about to change, at least briefly.

With less than three weeks left before the election and tensions rising in a razor-close contest, both men will try to set aside whatever disdain they have for each other at the Al Smith dinner Thursday night in New York City.

A gathering of elites to benefit charity, the dinner has become the one light moment between presidential candidates every four years as the men seeking the White House deliver comedic roasts designed to make fun of their rival - and of themselves.

Aides to both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama declined to provide any preview of the jokes they might offer tonight.

But it's not hard to imagine the well from which they will each draw for inspiration:

* Ther e's Mr. Romney's observation that Michigan's trees are “the right height” and that Pennsylvania's home-baked cookies taste like they're from 7-11.

* The candidates can mock Mr. Obama's sleepwalking first debate performance and his fateful “you didn't build that” comment at a rally this year.

* Can there be any doubt that jokes will be made about Vice President Biden's weird grins, his “chains” comment, his “big deal” comment, or really - just about anything that comes out of Mr. Biden's mouth?

* If a joke isn't made about Mitt Romney and the Cayman Islands, it's probably an oversight. Ditto for corporations and people.

* The president's open-mike moment with Vladimir Putin is worthy of humor, as is his much maligned assessment that the “private sector is doing fine.”

* Mr. Romney's “47 percent” comment is a sure bet for some mocking. Both men may mention the Republican's stated enjoyment of “firing people.”

* D onald Trump jokes usually write themselves, as do lines about his suspicions regarding Mr. Obama's birth certificate.

* It's a good bet that someone will mention the $10,000 wager Mr. Romney offered to Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, during the Republican primaries.

* And someone - maybe Mr. Romney himself - might bring up his unintended slight of London, as the host city of the Olympics.

The dinner has been going on for decades, and every four years the presidential candidates seem to set aside their differences at the height of the campaign season.

That might seem tough for the current combatants. But consider four years ago, when Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain of Arizona were locked in a battle for the White House.

Both men had said intensely negative things about the other. But that night, they cracked each other up repeatedly.

“I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me,” Mr. McCain said at the d inner. Looking to his right, he added: “I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary.”

Mr. Obama burst out laughing, a wide grin on his face. (Ms. Clinton laughed heartily, too.)

When it was his turn, Mr. Obama made fun of himself, saying that “it's often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Newman.”

After the dinner for years ago, both men returned to the campaign trail, hitting each other as hard as they could. At a rally in Woodbridge, Va., two days later, Mr. McCain assailed Mr. Obama as a tax-raiser.

“Barack Obama's plan to raise taxes on some in order to give checks to others isn't a tax cut, it's just another government giveaway,” Mr. McCain said.

So much for humor.