The U.S. presidential race paused for comedic relief on Thursday night with both candidates making appearances in New York City for a charity fundraising event.
Just two days after their often-combative debate, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney addressed the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. The white-tie gala at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel has been a customary stop for politicians for decades.
On stage, Mr Romney gently mocked his own Mormon faith, saying he had prepared for the presidential debates by "not drinking alcohol for 65 years".
Resplendent in formal white tie, Mr Romney - known for his business fortune - said that after a long campaign it was "nice finally to relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house".
And in a reference to the need to raise a laugh from among the attendees, he reminded the audience of the vice-president's mirth-filled approach to his debate with Paul Ryan a week ago: "I was hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along because he'll laugh at anything."
Mr Obama used the occasion to reference the first debate between the two men, an encounter he was widely judged to have lost.
"I had more energy in second debate," the president said. "I was well-rested after the nice long nap I had in first debate."
The dinner, organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, raises money for poor children. By tradition, presidential candidates share the podium to tease their rivals and mock themselves. While in the city, Obama will also tape an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” The dinner was Romney’s only public event of the day.
Obama’s invitation to the dinner comes at a time when his relations with the Catholic church are frayed. The administration decided earlier this year that women who work for religion-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.
The dinner’s host is Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the leader of the New York archdiocese and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has battled with Obama over the contraception rule. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has opposed the contraception rule.
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).”
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 keeping with the church’s promotion of dialogue.
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Obama’s re-election bid, made reference to the cardinal’s Internet posting when asked about Obama’s relationship with Dolan.
“There are many areas where they do see eye-to-eye, and there are some where they have been disagreements, including contraception,” she said. “They’ve both been very forward about that.”
Women’s advocacy groups have embraced the contraception rule and both candidates have been focusing on their appeals to female voters.
Source: Bloomberg News and BBC News