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Mitt Romney, Barack Obama turn to humor at Al Smith dinner

President Barack Obama, Roman Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop

President Barack Obama, Roman Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney share a laugh at the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The lighthearted white-tie charity gala has long been a tradition of the presidential race. (Oct. 18, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

The two presidential candidates took a break from the caustic criticism of the campaign trail to score political points with biting humor last night in midtown Manhattan.

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney peeled off the stump Thursday to attend the annual Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. During presidential election years, the event brings the candidates to the same stage to trade barbs and self-deprecating zingers as the race enters its final weeks.

The white-tie affair raises millions for the Gov. Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation and is organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York to benefit needy children.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan sat between Obama and Romney on the dais. The president greeted Romney warmly when he entered the ballroom, shaking his challenger's hand and patting him on the shoulder twice.

The men shared the dais with captains of industry and philanthropy, plus Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Alfred E. Smith IV, great-grandson of the dinner's namesake, joked that he was the night's "referee" when introducing himself as master of ceremonies.

Romney, tuxedo-clad, took the podium first and joked about his wealth, saying it was nice to "finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house."

He also quipped that he and the president chatted pleasantly at dinner, "as if Tuesday never happened."

When it was his turn, Obama said he was much more lively at Tuesday's second presidential debate "after the nice long nap I had at the first debate."

As for the next debate on Monday, the president reminded everyone that the topic would be foreign affairs.

"Spoiler alert," Obama quipped. "We got bin Laden."

More than 1,600 were scheduled to attend. The menu included poached lobster tail and dark chocolate tropical fruit cadeau. Tickets started at $2,500.

The diocese hoped to raise $5 million. Last year it gave out $2 million in grants.

Obama also taped an episode of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" while in Manhattan. The show aired last night.

Comedy Central host Jon Stewart pressed Obama over the government's changing explanation about the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, according to The Associated Press. When Stewart suggested that even Obama would concede his administration's coordination and communication had not been "optimal," Obama said: "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it."

Romney has questioned Obama's handling of the matter and his honesty about it to voters. On "The Daily Show," Obama insisted information was shared with the American people as it came in, the AP said. The attack is under investigation, he said, and "the picture eventually gets filled in."

The dinner fell two days after Obama and Romney exchanged jabs in the second debate at Hofstra University.

The latest polling shows the race is virtually tied.

The dinner also came amid Dolan's clashes with Obama over a federal mandate that insurance plans, even those provided by church-affiliated institutions like hospitals, cover the cost of contraception. The mandate is part of the president's signature Affordable Care Act.

More than a dozen U.S. archdioceses have sued claiming the contraception mandate would require church leaders to violate religious beliefs.

In March, during a speech at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville, Dolan called the mandate a "government intrusion."

The Al Smith Dinner has been a necessary stop for politicians since World War II. It is named for the unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee in 1928, who was the first Catholic to run for president. Smith was a four-term governor of New York.

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