For Romney and Obama, one-liners are on the menu

During the second segment of the first presidential debate of 2012, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama squared off on their differences over the future of tax rates.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
First Presidential Debate: Taxes
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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 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.