NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain shared the same stage and microphone again on Thursday, but this time they traded wisecracks instead of campaign attacks.
One night after battling in their final debate, the rivals in the White House race donned white ties for a more genial political tradition — a New York dinner that has attracted presidential candidates in every election but two since 1945.
McCain told the glittering Manhattan crowd at the annual Al Smith dinner, a fundraiser for area Catholic charities named after the four-term former New York governor, that he had an announcement — he had dismissed all of his campaign advisers.
“All of their positions will now be held by a man named Joe the plumber,” McCain said, citing the Ohio small business owner who McCain made an overnight sensation in Wednesday’s debate.
The Arizona senator also poked fun at his reference to Obama as “that one” in an earlier debate.
“He doesn’t mind at all. In fact he even has a pet name for me: George Bush,” McCain said.
McCain saluted Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Obama’s bitter rival in the Democratic primary whose level of enthusiasm for Obama’s campaign for the November 4 election has been a subject of great media fascination.
“I can’t shake the feeling that some people here are pulling for me,” McCain said. “I’m delighted to see you here tonight Hillary.”
When Obama took the microphone, he said he needed to correct some misconceptions since McCain had been asking “Who is Barack Obama?”
“I was not born in a manger,” he said, adding the name Barack, given by his Kenyan father, was Swahili for “that one.” He also had an explanation for his middle name, Hussein.
“I got my middle name from somebody who didn’t think I would ever run for president,” he said.
Obama listed his greatest strength as humility and his greatest weakness: “I’m a little too awesome.”
Without naming her, he also made reference to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate. She has been touted by Republicans for her foreign policy expertise because of Alaska’s proximity to Russia.
Obama noted the dinner was held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
“I’m told from the doorstep you can see all the way to The Russian Tea Room,” he said.
The only times presidential candidates did not speak at the Al Smith dinner were 1996, when President Bill Clinton was not invited after he vetoed a late-term abortion ban, and 2004, when sponsors cited the divisive nature of the campaign and skipped the invitations.
Both candidates closed with warm words for each other, with Obama praising McCain’s service to country in the Navy and as a Vietnam prisoner of war.
McCain noted Obama’s history-making bid to be the first black U.S. president.
“I won’t wish my opponent luck but I do wish him well,” McCain said.
Editing by John O'Callaghan