NEW YORK -- Switching from jabs to jokes, President Obama and Mitt Romney set aside an evening between debates to make fun of themselves and each other during one of the few other campaign rituals that brings the candidates together on stage.
Each appeared back-to-back at an annual fundraiser run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, which has hosted presidential candidates since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Though they dress formally, the candidates go for laughs.
Romney cracked that the white-tie-and-tails event made him feel right at home because "I can finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house." Obama, he said, would look at the well-heeled crowd and think "So little time, so much to redistribute."
In another pointed joke at his opponent, Romney said that with the most recent drop in the unemployment rate, Obama's new slogan is "You're better off now than you were four weeks ago" and that Obama's speech is "brought to you by the letter O and 16 trillion."
Obama took on Romney's wealth: "I went shopping today at some stores in Midtown. Mitt Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown."
The president mocked his own anemic performance in the first debate: "There are worst things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift." And he previewed the upcoming foreign policy debate on Monday: "Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden."
Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, who hosted the event, was criticized by some Catholics for inviting Obama because of the church's opposition to the administration's requirement that employer health insurance cover contraception.
After the tense exchanges of this week's debate - likely to be repeated in the final debate - the campaigns turned Thursday to a softer sell: Ann Romney appeared on a daytime talk show, Bruce Springsteen performed at an Obama rally with former president Bill Clinton, and Obama talked to political satirist Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Michelle Obama appears today on Live with Kelly and Michael.
With Stewart, Obama joked that he had to issue a presidential directive to stop Vice President Biden from attending meetings clad only in a wet bathing suit, but he turned serious in defense of his administration's handling of the attack in Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador.
"What happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation, and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it," Obama said.
The administration's explanation of what happened has shifted, but Obama said, "Every piece of information that we get - as we got it - we laid it out to the American people." He acknowledged flaws in communication and security. "When four Americans get killed, it's not optimal." he said. "We're going to fix it. All of it."
Romney canceled plans to appear with his wife on The View, but son Josh went along and told viewers his brother Tagg "didn't mean it" when he said he wanted to take a swing at Obama during Tuesday's debate. Besides, he added, Tagg "has slugged me a couple times - I assure you President Obama has nothing to worry about."
Friday campaigns in Virginia, and Romney in Florida.