WASHINGTON — President Obama and Mitt Romney compete for votes. They try to outdo each other in fund-raising, in creating the best television ad, in delivering the most pointed attack in a debate.
On Thursday night, they competed for laughs.
Appearing back-to-back at a charity gala in New York City, the candidates alternated between self-deprecating humor and edgy roast material.
“It’s nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house,” Romney said, donning white tie and tails. Then he noted, “I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening. Because he’ll laugh at anything.”
Referencing his own comments about cutting federal subsidies to “Sesame Street’’ and the burgeoning federal deficit, Romney said, “The president’s remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 trillion.”
Romney also chided the press. “I’ve already seen early reports from tonight’s dinner. Headline: Obama embraced by Catholics, Romney dines with rich people.”
When Obama took the podium, he began, “Everyone please take your seats. Otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them.”
“Earlier today I went shopping at some stores in Midtown,” he said. “I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown.”
Obama also had several moments of self-deprecating humor. Noting his lackluster first debate against Romney, Obama said, “I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.”
Romney and Obama both closed by turning to a moment of graciousness. “I admire him very much as a family man and a loving father, and those are two titles that will always matter more than any political ones,” Obama said.
“Don’t tell anybody I said this,” Romney said. “But our 44th president has many gifts and a wonderful family that would make anybody proud.”
The white-tie dinner, held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, raised some $5 million to benefit the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, which helps sick and poor people in New York. Smith was a Democratic governor of New York and the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee.
Several critics had pleaded with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan to revoke the invitation to Obama, citing differences he has with the Catholic Church over contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. The archdiocese in the past had not invited John Kerry and Bill Clinton because of support for abortion rights.
“If I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone,” Dolan wrote in a blog post in response.
Clinton, Springsteen rally in Ohio
PARMA, Ohio — Lest anyone forget the importance of Ohio’s white, working-class voters, President Obama sent a clear reminder on Thursday.
Make that two reminders: former President Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen, two aging baby boomers still at the top of their game.
‘‘No retreat, believe me, no surrender,’’ Springsteen sang, performing without the backing of his E Street Band in a darkened gymnasium lit by a spotlight. The lyrics seemed aimed both at the president and his supporters.
With less than three weeks until Election Day, Clinton and Springsteen took the stage to rally support for Obama among the critical middle-class voting bloc in this tightly contested swing state.
‘‘For 30 years, I’ve been writing about the divide between the American dream and the American reality,’’ Springsteen said. ‘‘Our vote is the one principal way we get to determine that distance.’’
Clinton implored voters to reward Obama for bailing out the auto industry, which has deep roots in Ohio.
‘‘When you were down, you were out, and your whole economy was threatened, the president had your back,’’ said Clinton.
Ohio is at the center of both Obama and Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign strategies. Winning the state would put Obama on the brink of the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the White House. Romney, who has fewer pathways to victory than the president, almost certainly needs Ohio’s 18 electoral votes if he hopes to claim victory.
Both campaigns are paying special attention to Ohio’s working class, many of whom are white and do not have a college degree. They have made up about half of voters in the state in each of the last two presidential elections.
And they were well represented among the 3,000 people packed into a community college for the Clinton-Springsteen appearance.
‘‘I think Clinton is key,’’ said firefighter Matt Sparling of Parma Heights, Ohio. ‘‘He’s got an amazing way of keeping it simple.’’ Springsteen, he added, helps draw the crowd.
Clinton reveled in the chance to serve as Springsteen’s opening act.
‘‘I am qualified because I was born in the USA and unlike one of the candidates for president, I keep all my money here,’’ Clinton said, referring both to one of the rocker’s classic songs and Romney’s overseas financial holdings.
A snapshot of the Wisconsin Senate race
The variety of potential influences appears endless: the Badger State’s traditional progressive roots; the recent Republican resurgence; Republican Governor Scott Walker beating back a recall effort after trimming collective bargaining for public workers; Paul Ryan’s choice as Republican VP nominee.
Yet, the race boils down to the earnestness and energy of liberal Tammy Baldwin vs. the experience of moderate Tommy Thompson. When Thompson, a former governor and US health and human services secretary, defeated Tea Party candidates in the primary, most observers crowned him the favorite. But Baldwin has run a vibrant, strong campaign.