John McCain and Barack Obama touched on some of the most contentious issues in the campaign tonight, from Bill Ayers to racial undertones, in their scripted jokes at the Al Smith dinner in New York City.
McCain, in a much more light-hearted and relaxed mood than he was during last night's debate, poked fun at the adoration surrounding Obama when he quipped: "Maverick I can do but messiah is above my pay grade."
He also made light of the controversy surrounding his "that one" comment at the second debate when he said that it was simply his pet name for Obama.
"He doesn't mind at all. In fact, he has given me the pet name, 'George Bush.'
McCain also noted the lingering unease among Hillary Clinton and her supporters at losing the bitterly-fought primary against Obama:
"I can't shake the feeling that some people here are voting for me. Nice to see you, Hillary."
And he joked that Bill Clinton "has been hammering away with me with epithets like, 'war hero.'"
He also snapped that MSNBC's acerbic host, Keith Obermann deserves a "padded room," adding that if Obama wins the election, "I understand that Keith Olbermann has ordered up his very own Mission Accomplished banner... he knows right where to put it."
Obama made light of McCain's consistent attempts to tie him to former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers and to spread unease about Obama's real character.
"There is no Senator I would rather be palling around with," quipped Obama after he took the stage, referring to the McCain campaign's talking points about Obama "palling around" with Ayers.
He also joked about McCain's age, saying that the candidate and long-deceased New York governor Al Smith "had a great time in the days before Prohibition."
And he noted the lingering distrust between the Obama team and Hillary Clinton and her supporters, saying that she was the "primary reason I have all this gray in my hair."
Obama also made light about the messiah complex some of his supporters have built around his candidacy.
"I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton. I was sent here by my father Jor-El to save the planet Earth... Many of you know that I got my name from my father. "Barack" is Swahili for "That one." I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't realize I would run for president."
"My greatest strength would be my humility. My greatest weakness is that it's possible I am too awesome."
And he joked about McCain's earlier attempt in the campaign to attack Obama's celebrity status. Obama said that he "punched a paparazzi on my way out of Spago's. I even spilled my soy chai latte.
More of Obama's wit:
- Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term limits maneuverings caused Bill Clinton to say: "You can do that?"
- The housing crisis "has been eight times harder on John McCain."
- "There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd.... that's right... I've been a member of the United States Senate."
- "Fox News accused me of fathering two African-American children in wedlock."
(UPDATE: A reader pointed out that McCain borrowed a line from George Bush - "I can't wish him luck, but I do wish him well" - which Bush used to refer to Al Gore at the 2000 Al Smith dinner when he introduced his Democratic rival.)