Bitter rivals Obama and Romney relax, trade jokes

Locked in a tense race with time running out, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney took time off to exchange light-hearted jabs and make fun of each other on Thursday in a joint appearance at a high-profile charity dinner.

Two days after a brutal debate in which they exchanged verbal blows and stalked each other on stage, Obama and Romney greeted each other warmly, dressed formally in white tie and tails.

But the combativeness of the campaign trail was ever-present as the two foes gave back-to-back speeches at the 67th annual Alfred E  Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

Romney, speaking first, said Obama, who wants to increase taxes on the wealthy to help fund government programs, must have had some thoughts as he looked out at the crowd of wealthy people at the dinner.

“You have to wonder what he's thinking: So little time, so much to redistribute,” he said. Obama, when it was his turn, made fun of Romney’s vast wealth. “Earlier I went shopping at some stores in Midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown,” he said.

The Al Smith dinner is a glittering affair at the Waldcrf-Astoria hotel where New York’s high society dined on poached lobster and rack of lamb and contributed $5 million for various children’s charities. Obama and Romney, facing a third and final debate Monday in Florida, sat close to each other at the dinner, separated only by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York who spoke at both the Republican and Democratic conventions in late August and early September.

The event is an annual speaking opportunity for presidents or president aspirants to test their comic skills with self-deprecating jokes usually written up by clever speechwriters.

Obama made light of his much-panned performance at his first debate. on October 3. He said at the second debate, where he was judged the winner, he had been well-rested because of the “nice long nap I had at the first debate.”

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