Rhetoric heats up as emotions run high in '12 race

By Nedra Pickler

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The bickering between campaigns was supposed to take a break Thursday night as both candidates address the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a white-tie gala at New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel that has been a required stop for politicians since the end of World War II. Obama also played for laughs on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" while he's in Manhattan for an episode that would air late Thursday.

The president campaigned earlier Thursday in tightly contested New Hampshire and asked the state's voters to give him more time in office to get the economy back on track. "I need your help to finish what we started in 2008."

The Romney campaign was shifting resources and some workers out of North Carolina, a campaign official saying he was more confident of a victory there. The state's 24 Republican campaign offices — Obama has 54 — will remain open and the get-out-the-vote efforts will continue, campaign official Michael Levoff said.

The evening's political dinner is named for the four-term Democratic governor of New York who lost the 1928 presidential race to Republican Herbert Hoover. Smith was the first Catholic to run for president and the dinner named for him is organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York for the benefit of needy children.

In keeping with tradition, both candidates have prepared lighthearted fare for the event. 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 follows a confrontational debate, also at Hofstra, lending an air of drama to the pivot from acrimony to humor. Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki mocked the high expectations that both campaigns set for their rivals before the debates.

"I will say Mitt Romney has practiced for longer than any presidential candidate in history for tonight," Psaki told reporters traveling with Obama. "And we expect him to be drop-on-the-floor funny. And the president will make his way through."

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.

On the celebrity front, Obama picked up the endorsement of rock star Bruce Springsteen, who also backed the Democrat in 2008 and Thursday campaigned for Obama in Ohio with former President Bill Clinton.

"For 30 years I've been writing about the distance between the American dream and American reality," Springsteen said, reading from a statement on his music stand. "Our vote is the one principal way we get to determine that distance."

Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler and Ken Thomas in Washington and Tamara Lush in Ocala, Fla., contributed to this report.

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