WASHINGTON—The presidential campaign, heavy on finger-pointing and recrimination, is taking a brief but abrupt detour so President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney can play politics for laughs.
The rivals are quieting the bickering to address the venerable Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a white-tie gala Thursday evening at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel that has been a required stop for politicians since the end of World War II.
In keeping with tradition, both candidates have prepared lighthearted fare for the fundraising event organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York for the benefit of needy children. That was the case almost precisely four years ago when Obama and GOP nominee John McCain poked fun at themselves and each other just a day after an intense presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island.
As in 2008, this year’s dinner comes in the wake of a confrontational debate, also at Hofstra, lending an air of drama to the pivot from acrimony to humor.
What’s more, the dinner’s host is Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has clashed with the Obama administration over contraception provisions in the new health care law. Dolan has said he received “stacks of mail” protesting the dinner invitation to Obama. But Dolan has sought to avoid playing political favorites, even delivering benedictions at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer.
The dinner was Romney’s only public event Thursday. Obama planned to campaign in New Hampshire, one of the most competitive states in the election, before taping an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with host Jon Stewart.
Romney and Obama were traveling to New York, a state firmly behind Obama, as their campaigns mounted an aggressive appeal for undecided female voters.
During stops Wednesday in Iowa and Ohio, the president mocked Romney’s remark during Tuesday night’s debate that as Massachusetts governor, he received “whole binders full of women” as he sought to diversify his administration. “We don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented women,” Obama said.
Romney made his own pitch to women.
”This president has failed American’s women,” he told a crowd in Chesapeake, Va. “They’ve suffered in terms of getting jobs,” he added, saying that 3.6 million more of them are in poverty now than when Obama took office.
His campaign aired a television commercial that seemed designed to soften his opposition to abortion while urging women to keep pocketbook issues uppermost in their minds when they vote.
On the celebrity front, Obama picked up the endorsement of rock star Bruce Springsteen, who also backed the Democrat in 2008. In a letter on his website, Springsteen called the president’s term a “really rough ride.” But he said that “though grit, determination and focus, the president has been able to do a great many things that many of us deeply support.”
Springsteen planned to appear at two events for Obama on Thursday, including a rally in Ohio with former President Bill Clinton.
Romney traveled on Wednesday with comedian Dennis Miller, and singer Lee Greenwood warmed up his crowd in southeast Virginia.
The political dinner in New York is named for the former four-term Democratic governor of New York who lost the 1928 presidential race Republican Herbert Hoover. Smith was the first Catholic to run for president.
While the Catholic Church has differences with Obama on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage, the Conference of Catholic Bishops also has clashed with Republicans, opposing GOP budget plans that cut programs for the poor and criticizing efforts to deny illegal immigrants tax refunds from the $1,000-per-child tax credit.