The presidential campaign trail morphed into the comedy circuit as John McCain and Barack Obama went more for laughs than the jugular in what was expected to be the candidates' last joint appearance before Election Day.
"Barack is actually Swahili for 'that one,'" Obama deadpanned to the tuxedoed crowd at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel Thursday night. "And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president."
Obama's middle name is Hussein.
McCain told the crowd that Obama wasn't upset by his awkward "that one" reference during their second debate. "He doesn't mind at all," McCain said. "In fact, he even has a pet name for me: George Bush."
The two campaigns largely took a break from their attempts to verbally knee-cap each other for a few hours at the annual Al Smith Dinner, a charity fundraiser that has traditionally drawn the presidential candidates into a temporary truce.
While in New York, McCain also dropped in at the"Late Show With David Letterman" and his running mate, Sarah Palin, has agreed to appear this weekend on "Saturday Night Live," which has been featuring comedian Tina Fey lampooning the Alaskan governor.
Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, went for laughs as well, trading ad libbed one-liners with Ellen DeGeneres today for a show to air Monday.
The Smith dinner was a welcome break from the daily political sniping and came a day after McCain and Obama held their most contentious debate yet.
But at the dinner, they often took shots at themselves.
"If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible I may be too awesome," Obama said with a wry smile.
"Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger," Obama said. "I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the planet Earth."
"I was originally told the venue would be Yankee Stadium. Can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested?" the Illinois senator said, a reference to the minicoliseum that was built at a football stadium for his convention address.
McCain Uses Clinton as His Foil in Temporary Campaign Truce
McCain frequently used Sen. Hillary Clinton as his straight man, or woman, in his stand-up routine.
Noting that he was in a traditionally Democratic town, the Republican candidate said, "I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me."
Turning to the far side of the stage, he said, "I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary."
Keeping to the Clinton theme, he mockingly complained that Bill Clinton "has been hammering away with me with epithets like, 'hero.'"
Even in jest, Obama couldn't resist a shot at his older rival.
"It is an honor to be here with Al Smith," he said to the great-grandson of the former New York governor after whom the dinner is named. "I obviously never knew your great-grandfather, but from everything that Sen. McCain has told me, the two of them had a great time together before prohibition."
He couldn't resist another shot at himself, either.
"It's often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith. And the ears of Alfred E. Neuman," referring to the jug-eared icon of Mad magazine.
Both concluded their shticks with compliments to their opponent.
McCain said no matter what happens on Election Day, Obama has already made history.
"I've had a few glimpses of this man at his best. I admire his great skill, energy and determination. … I cannot wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well," McCain said.
When it was his turn, Obama said, "There are very few of us that have served this country with the same dedication and honor and distinction as Sen. McCain."
Laughs in Person, Attacks on the Trail
The civility didn't last long, though. While the two men were swapping jokes, Republicans were attacking Obama with automated calls to voters in battleground states.
"I'm calling for John McCain because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home and killed Americans," the caller said.
Obama's camp put out a new attack ad warning senior citizens that McCain would pay for his health care plan with steep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, a charge McCain's aides called "lies" and distortions."
McCain is trailing in the polls and Democrats have become so optimistic that Obama warned them Thursday against becoming "cocky." Yet most of the campaigning is occurring in traditionally red states, forcing McCain to defend them rather than making inroads into normally blue states.
McCain will be campaigning today in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, states that in past elections could be assumed would vote Republican.
Newt Gingrich Says McCain Can Still Win
But Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, told "Good Morning America" that McCain is closing the gap with Obama.
"I would say this race is a long way from over," he said.
While the Arizona senator is trailing dangerously in key battleground states, Gingrich argued that he can win the same way that Harry Truman won in 1956.
"If you get a four-point or five-point swing nationally, a bunch of states fall his way," Gingrich said.
The former speaker said McCain has a good issue that emerged with Obama's conversation with Joe the Plumber, the Ohio man who complained to Obama about his plans to raise taxes for families making more than $250,000 and Obama's response that it would help others not making as much money.
"The average American doesn't believe it's the right thing for America to have politicians deciding to spread the wealth to their cronies," Gingrich said.