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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Romney, Obama to Trade One-Liners

Aired October 18, 2012 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news we're following tonight. You're looking at the grand ballroom over at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, where about 1600 political and media heavy-hitters are waiting for Mitt Romney to take the stage at the Annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner in just a few minutes. Governor Romney will be followed by President Obama at the charity gala that has become a must for presidential candidates going back to JFK and Richard Nixon in 1960.

But don't expect a repeat of the fiery Romney-Obama debate confrontation this week. The Al Smith Dinner prizes its jokes over attacks as the candidates pokes some fun at themselves and each other while of course vying for votes with only 19 days to go until the election.

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer in for Piers Morgan. We're going to bring you all of this -- all of the one-liners live from the president and the challenger. That's all coming up.

Let's set the stage. I want to bring in Gloria Borger, Ross Douthat, Tanya Acker, also Jim Acosta, he's our political correspondent standing outside the Waldorf in New York.

Set the stage for us, Jim. What are we about to see?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The Alfred Smith Dinner here in just a few moments from now. We're told that that speech will begin at 9:05. He gets to go first. The president gets to go second. And as you've noted and as we've been reporting all day long, this is typically a light-hearted affair. And I did talk to a senior Romney advisor, and you know, we've been reporting all day long that the GOP nominee was in debate prep for most of the day.

But I should report -- I did hear from a senior Romney adviser who said that Mitt Romney also worked on this speech for this evening. So they are -- the jokes will be -- was serious business, you could say, earlier today when he was working on his material for later on this evening.

And, Wolf, keep in mind, I mean, we -- I've noticed out on the campaign trail following Mitt Romney, you know, the candidate does have a sense of humor. Sometimes, you know, the jokes may come across unintentionally. But he does also have the occasion where he does intentionally tell some jokes and shares his humor. And it goes over very well. We're here with Mitt Romney in New York City on September 25th when he spoke in front of the Clinton Global Initiative. He opened up with a joke there after Bill Clinton introduced him. He said he was waiting for the Clinton bounce in the polls after being introduced by Bill Clinton. So he does have an experience, a vast record of experience, you might say, telling jokes in public settings and it actually going over pretty well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They are getting ready for all the jokes. They're getting ready for the entertainment, if you will. Those are live pictures you were just seeing from inside the ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Let me remind our viewers what happened four years ago when the then two presidential candidates, both senators, John McCain and Barack Obama, told some funny one-liners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This campaign needed the common touch of a working man. After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as the one. Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him, that one.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is Barack is actually Swahili for that one.

And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very funny. They are going to have some good one- liners.

Gloria, why do these candidates normally attend this event sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think at this point in the campaign, Wolf, it's clear to them and it's also pretty clear to us that what we need is some civility, a little bit of humor. And it also doesn't hurt yourself as a candidate to be self- deprecating. I mean you just saw then candidate Obama, John McCain, making fun of themselves. John McCain making fun of his mistake in a -- in a presidential debate.

And I think voters like to see these candidates, who are always on, who are always tense, who are always competitive to show another side of themselves with a little bit of humor and I think they probably both believe this is good for them.

BLITZER: You know, Ross, this is one of those feel-good moments. And it -- it comes only a few days after one of the -- most fiery, if not the toughest presidential debate in modern times shall we say. And this -- when people watch this live and they're going to see both of these candidates live here tonight on PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT, I think they're going to get a better feeling about the country. Don't you agree?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I would imagine so. I mean one of the striking things about the last debate was -- you know, some of this was the town hall setting and the fact that they could sort of circle each other almost. But, you know, people were talking about how there were moments when it almost seemed like they were ready to come to blows.

Obviously Mitt Romney's son made a -- just slightly unfortunate joke about wanting to sort of get in on the action himself. But you really had the sense from the last debate that these were two guys who, frankly, don't like each other very much and maybe don't like each other even more than presidential candidates usually don't like each other.

So the chance to stand up and, you know, tell some jokes and sort of not be at war with each other for a night is probably good for both of them.

BLITZER: And you can see some media celebrities in that row right behind the president. He is speaking there to Cardinal Dolan from New York. But he's going to be speaking later this evening as well. But you see Chris Matthews there, I see Katie Couric there, Maria Bartiromo. You see a lot of New York media superstars, if you will, in addition to a lot of political leaders. This comes with the territory at these annual events.

Tanya, give us a little flavor. What do you think is going to happen in the course of the next hour?

TANYA ACKER, ATTORNEY/POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that Ross actually made a very interesting point because if you remember, Barack Obama and John McCain actually used to be friends. They were in the Senate together. They had the opportunity to work together. So there was really some credibility to the fun and camaraderie that we saw at their dinner.

This time, not so much. I mean I think it will be great for the country. I think that both of these men will step up, give us a lighter sense of who they are, kind of take the edge off of this campaign a bit. You know, in real life, Democrats and Republicans actually do get along from time to time. So I think that this will be a good opportunity for them to show that side and sort of just calm down the political rhetoric just a little bit.

BLITZER: And they're going to raise $5 million tonight as a result of this dinner. The -- some tables are going for $100,000. Needy kids in the New York area will be the beneficiary from this excellent dinner tonight. Not only will -- will all of us be getting a few laughs and maybe getting a little bit of a good feeling about this political process but in the process, a lot of needy kids will get some help as well.

Jim Acosta, you're outside the Waldorf. You spent the day covering Mitt Romney today. How has he prepared for this? We know he spent a lot of time preparing for the debates.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: How is preparing to tell some jokes?

ACOSTA: Well, you know, I think they're being pretty tightlipped about the material that we're going to be hearing later on this evening. But that Romney adviser did tell me, Wolf, that he has been working on these jokes, he has been working on this material, in addition to doing his debate prep.

And I think that goes to show you how this is, you know, kind of an important evening. You know the American people are just getting a chance to -- a lot of the American people are getting a chance to know Mitt Romney. And this will be a part of that process. Mitt Romney to a lot of Americans was an unknown quantity before that first debate. And one of the reasons why we've seen him rising in the polls is because I think for a lot of Americans they saw him as perhaps an acceptable alternative to the president during that first debate when he did so well.

I will mention one other thing about this evening. You were talking about the body language between the two candidates and maybe perhaps a little bit of that animosity between the two candidates at that debate the other night. There was a -- press pool report that came out just a few moments ago, Wolf, that said -- and of course the press pool, these are the small number of journalists who are in the event standing by to watch this unfold in just a few moments from now.

And in that pool report, it -- the Alfred E. Smith IV, who is the emcee at tonight's proceedings, he gave a joke to sort of kick off the night and said that there is a safe distance between the two candidates this evening. And pardon the truck behind me. And then he pointed to Cardinal Dolan. So they got in a good joke there even before the candidates took the stage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they have had an excellent dinner, we're told. Let me just let our viewers in the United States and around the world know what these 1600 people have eaten. Some poached lobster tail, rosemary-sauced rack of lamb with Risotto. Baby zucchini and confit tomato and for dessert, dark chocolate tropical fruit cadeau, cadeau, cadeau? I don't even know. And petit fours.

Gloria, help me with those words. What are all those French words out there?

BORGER: Cadeau?

BLITZER: I don't know.

BORGER: I took French at one point in my life.

DOUTHAT: I think -- I think it means present.

BORGER: It does. It does.

BLITZER: Is that what it is?

BORGER: You know, one thing I'm reminded of, Wolf, is how important presidential joke writers are. Candidate joke writers are. When you're -- when you're in a high-profile situation like this. When you know the White House Correspondents Dinner, the president is always put on the spot when he's got to tell jokes before a comedian. And here tonight, both of these candidates are in kind of a different competition. It will be who can be more self-deprecating, who can be more gracious, at the same time, being funny.

And these two men, and they don't like each other very much. They don't have a really long history together. They don't know each other very well. John McCain -- Senator McCain and then senator Obama knew each other well. They fought quite a bit when they were in the Senate but they did have a longer-term relationship. So these men see each other more when they're squaring off, when they're talking about each other, when -- on the campaign trail when they're looking at policy. But honestly, there is not much of a -- of a real relationship there.

BLITZER: It's interesting. If you take a look at the Catholic vote, Ross, and I know you've studied this. Gloria studied it as well. In the 2008 CNN exit poll, at that time, among Catholic voters, we asked them, who do you vote for for president? Fifty-four percent said -- then senator Barack Obama, 45 percent said John McCain.

Ross, it's shaping up a little bit different this time around. We have two vice presidential candidates who are both Catholics. But at the top of the ticket, one is a Mormon, the other a Protestant.

DOUTHAT: Right. And one issue we haven't talked that's sort of an interesting undercurrent at this dinner is that of course Archbishop Dolan is at the forefront of the Catholic Church's battle, sort of straightforward battle, with the White House over the Health and Human Services mandate requiring religious institutions, hospitals and schools to cover contraception, the morning-after pill and sterilization.

And in fact he's literally involved in a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services and he's been criticized by some conservative Catholics for extending the usual invitation to the president given the tensions between the White House and the fact that the church has argued, I think, plausibly but I have my own biases, that the administration has been infringing on religious liberty.

So it's very interesting. I doubt that we'll be hearing many jokes about contraception from the president tonight.

BLITZER: All right. Well, they've just introduced the former governor of Massachusetts, the Republican presidential nominee. There you see him. He is now shaking hands with the emcee, Alfred E. Smith IV. And Mitt Romney is going to speak. Let's see what he has to say. Let's see how funny this Republican nominee can be.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Thank you, thank you. Thank you so much. Your Eminence, Cardinal Dolan, Mr. President, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, Al and Ann Smith. Thank you for your invitation. Thank you for your extraordinary warm welcome. Ann and I appreciate your friendship very, very much. Thank you.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

Now, Al, you are right, a campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We -- blue jeans in the morning perhaps, a suit for a lunch fundraiser, sport coat for dinner, but it's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.

(CHEERS AND LAUGHTER)

I'm glad to be able to join in this venerable tradition. Of course, I'm pleased that the president is here. We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened.

(CHEERS AND LAUGHTER)

And I credit that, of course, to the cardinal. He has -- it's taken New York's highest spiritual authority to get us back on our best behavior. I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening because he'll laugh at anything.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, this isn't a night for serious politics. And it was especially nice to see President Obama and Cardinal Dolan sharing the dais despite their differences. I'm sure the cardinal has no hard feelings and we might get an indication of that during dinner to see if the president's wine turns into water.

(LAUGHTER)

Or for that matter, whether my water turns into wine.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm pleased to once again have the chance to see Governor Cuomo, who is already being talked about for a higher office. A very impressive fellow but he may be getting a little ahead of himself. I mean, let me get this straight. The man has put in one term as a governor, he has a father who happened to be a governor, and he thinks that's enough to run for president.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, we're down to the final months of the president's term. As presidents --

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he is thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

And don't be surprised if the president mentions this evening the monthly jobs report where there was a slight improvement in the numbers. He knows how to seize the moment, this president. He already has a compelling new campaign slogan. You are better off now than you were four weeks ago.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

You know, with or without all the dignitaries that are here, the Al Smith Dinner surely lives up to its billing. Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it's just to be the designated driver.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Your kind hospitality here tonight gives me a chance to convey my deep and long-held respect for the Catholic Church, have special admiration for the Apostle St. Peter, to whom it is said, upon this rock, I will build my church. The story is all the more inspiring when you consider that he had so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say, if you've got a church, you didn't build that.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, only 19 days to go until the finish line. Campaign full of surprises. The debates are very exciting. Just the other night, we had a very fun debate. Candy Crowley was there and was happy to welcome us. But people seemed to be very curious as to how we prepare for the debates.

Let me tell you what I do. First, refrain from alcohol for 65 years before the debate.

(LAUGHTER)

Second, find the biggest available straw man and then just mercilessly attack it. Big Bird didn't even see it coming.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

And by the way, in the spirit of "Sesame Street," the president's remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 trillion.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Campaigns can be grueling, exhausting, President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who is always in our corner, someone who we can lean on and someone who is a comforting presence without whom we wouldn't be able to go another day.

I have my beautiful wife, Ann. He has Bill Clinton.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

We got a big dose of the Biden charm last week, I'll tell you that, in his debate with Paul Ryan. I'm not sure that all that carrying on had quite the effect that Joe intended. Because afterwards I heard from the Federal Election Commission. From now on, whenever he appears on TV there is a recording of me afterwards that says, I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message.

(LAUGHTER)

Of course rules of fairness have to be enforced. Because what are the safeguards do we have besides the press? And --

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Now I never suggest that the press is biased. I recognize they have their job to do and I have my job to do. My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country. And their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Let's just say that some in the media have a certain way of looking at things. When suddenly I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? Polls show Obama leading from behind.

(LAUGHTER)

And I have already seen early reports from tonight's dinner. Headline, Obama embraced by Catholics. Romney dines with rich people.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, the president has put his own stamp on relations with the church. There have been some awkward moments, like when the president pulled Pope Benedict aside to share some advice on how to deal with his critics. He said, look, Holy Father, whatever the problem is, just blame it on Pope John Paul II.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, the president has found a way to take the sting out of the Obamacare mandates for the church. From now on, they are going to be in Latin.

(LAUGHTER)

We have very fundamental and sound principles that guide both the president and me. He and I, of course, feel the pressures and tensions of a -- of a close contest. It'd be easy to let a healthy competition give way to the personal and the petty but fortunately, we don't carry the burden of disliking one another. Our president has had some very fine and gracious moments. Don't tell anyone I said so but our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud.

You can oppose --

(APPLAUSE)

In our country, you can oppose someone in politics and make a confident case against their policies without any ill-will. And that's how it is for me. There is more to life than politics.

At the Al Smith Foundation and the Archdiocese in New York, you show this in the work you do. In causes that run deeper than allegiance to a party or to any contests of the moment. No matter which way the political winds are blowing, what work goes on, day in, day out by this organization, and you, you answer with calm and willing hearts, in service to the poor, care for the sick, in defense in the rights of conscience, and in solidarity with the innocent child waiting to be born.

You strive to bring God's love into every -- in every life.

(APPLAUSE)

I don't presume to have all your support. And on a night like this, I'm certainly not going to ask for it. But you can be certain that in the great causes of compassion that you come together to embrace, that I stand proudly with you as an ally and friend.

God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: You see them shaking hands, the president and the governor. The president of the United States is going to be introduced now. He is about to go and deliver his lines.

Mitt Romney spoke for about 10 minutes, had a few good one- liners, got the crowd going, poked a little fun at himself. Poked some fun at the president. It goes as part of the territory, as part of this dinner tonight.

Gloria Borger is here. Give us a little sense. What did you think, Gloria?

BORGER: I thought he was funny. I thought, by his delivery, you can tell he is not exactly a stand-up comic by profession. But I thought he delivered some great one-liners without being too rough. He poked a lot of fun at Obama, not as much fun as himself, although he did talk about Big Bird not seeing it coming.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on, Gloria.

BORGER: And here's the president.

BLITZER: Right. Let's listen in. He's getting a standing ovation as Mitt Romney received as well.

OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Everyone, please take your seats. Otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you to Al and Ann, Your Eminence, Governor, Mrs. Romney, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer. All of the distinguished guests who are here.

In less than three weeks, voters in states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida will decide this incredibly important election which begs the question, what are we doing here?

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, New Yorkers also have a big choice to make. You have to decide which one of us you want holding up traffic for the next four years.

(LAUGHTER)

Tonight, I am here with a man whose father was a popular governor and who knows what it's like to run a major northeastern state and who could very well be president someday, and I'm hoping it is Andrew Cuomo.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well-rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Although it turns out millions of Americans focused in on the second debate who didn't focus in on the first debate, and I happen to be one of them.

(LAUGHTER)

I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews.

(LAUGHTER)

Four years ago, I gave him a thrill up his leg. This time around, I gave him a stroke.

(LAUGHTER)

Of course, there is a lot of things I learned from that experience. For example, I learned that there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) So take note, gentlemen. Now, win or lose, this is my last political campaign. So I'm trying to drink it all in. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg will only let me have 16 ounces.

(LAUGHTER)

But that's OK. I'm still making the most of my time in the city. Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in midtown.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

And it brought back some great memories because some of you know I went to school here in New York, had a wonderful experience here.

(APPLAUSE)

We used to love walking through Central Park, loved to go to old Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built, although he really did not build that.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

I hope everybody is aware of that.

It's been four years since I was last at the Al Smith dinner. Will have to admit some things have changed since then. I have heard some people say, Barack, you are not as young as you used to be. Where is that golden smile? Where is that pep in your step? And I say, settle down, Joe, I'm trying to run a Cabinet meeting here.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

He does smile when he says it, though.

(LAUGHTER)

Tomorrow, it's back to campaigning. I visit cities and towns across our great country and I hear the same thing everywhere I go. Honestly, we were hoping to see Michelle.

(LAUGHTER)

And I have to admit, it can be a grind. Sometimes it feels like this race has dragged on forever. But Paul Ryan assured me that we've only been running for two hours and 50 something minutes.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, the economy is on everybody's minds. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office. I don't have a joke here. I just thought it'd be useful to remind everybody.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

That the employment rate is at the lowest it's been since I took office.

(APPLAUSE)

And we're getting to that time when folks are making up their minds. Just the other day, Honey Boo-Boo endorsed me. So that's a big relief.

(LAUGHTER)

Ultimately, though, tonight is not about the disagreements Governor Romney and I may have. It's what we have in common, beginning with our unusual names. Actually Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

And even though we are enjoying ourselves tonight, we are both thinking ahead of our final debate on Monday. I'm hoping that Governor Romney and I will have a chance to answer the question that is on the minds of millions of Americans watching at home. Is this happening again?

(LAUGHTER)

Why aren't they putting on "The Voice "?

On Monday's debate is a little bit different because the topic is foreign policy. Spoiler alert. We got bin Laden.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

Of course, world affairs are a challenge for every candidate. After some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas. And I have to say I'm impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

And just so everyone knows in our third debate that we won't spend a whole lot of time interrupting each other. We will also interrupt the moderator just to mix things up.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Finally, let me say that I have been doing some thinking and I've decided that for our final debate, I'm going to go back to the strategy I used to prepare for the first debate.

I'm just kidding. I'm trying to make Axelrod sweat a little bit. Get him a little nervous.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: In all seriousness, I couldn't be more honored to be here this evening. I'm honored to be with leaders of both the private and public sectors, and particularly the extraordinary work that is done by the Catholic church.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: It is written in scripture that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character hope. This country has fought through some very tough years together. And while we still have a lot of work ahead, we have come as far as we have mainly because the perseverance and character of ordinary Americans.

And it says something about who we are as a people that in the middle of a contentious election season, opposing candidates can share the same stage. People from both parties can come together.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: They can come together to support a worthy cause. I particularly want to thank Governor Romney for joining me, because I admire him very much as a family man and a loving father. Those are two titles that will always matter more than any political ones.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: So we may have different political perspectives. But I think -- in fact, I'm certain that we share the hope that the next four years will reflect the same decency and the same willingness to come together for a higher purpose that are on display this evening.

May we all, in the words of Al Smith, do our full duty as citizens. God bless you. God bless your families. May God bless the United States of America!

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There he is, the president of the United States, like Mitt Romney a little self-deprecating humor, a little humor at the expense of his Republican challenger. There they're shaking hands. There is Cardinal Timothy Dolan. He's the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the head of the Archdiocese of New York, which is sponsoring this Al Smith dinner, as they do in New York all the time.

They're going to be raising, as I said, five million dollars for needy kids in the New York area. Let's get some quick reaction. Gloria, what did you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought he was funny. I thought he was great. I thought he was self-deprecating, as was Romney at points, talking about the nap he took during the first debate, made some fun of his vice president, made some fun of Mitt Romney, and ended up on the same note that Mitt Romney did, which is talking about civility in politics, which we seem to reserve these days for events like this, sadly, and not more often.

So I thought both of these men did really well. They have got some good speech writers. And the president is a little bit more practiced at it than Mitt Romney, I would have to say. But overall, I think it was great.

BLITZER: I think they were both pretty good. Ross Douthat is with us as well. Ross, you know what? It leaves everybody with a pretty good feeling, especially in the aftermath of that very, very bitter debate the other night.

ROSS DOUTHAT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yeah. I mean, if we are scoring it, I guess I would say that Romney maybe had the slightly better one- liners. But Obama did better at being self-deprecating. I think if I had been Romney's speech writer, I might have done a little more -- a few more sort of self-deprecating jokes about Romney's wealth. That never goes over badly, I think, at events like this.

But overall, I think they sort of played to a draw. It was not a completely politics-free event. You noticed the president mentioning that Bin Laden is dead and mentioning the unemployment rate. And obviously I thought Romney's most creative joke was the one about Pope Benedict blaming John Paul II for all his problem, a sort of dig at the president's tendency to mention that George W. Bush was president before him from time to time. But yes, overall, it was obviously a feel good evening.

BLITZER: Yes, he reminded the president and reminded everybody, especially in New York City -- spoiler alert, he said, we did get bin Laden.

Tanya, what did you think of both these candidates? How did they do?

TANYA ACKER, "HUFFINGTON POST": I -- I agree with the whole panel. I think they were both very funny. I am going to take issue a little bit, because I think the governor's speech was really pretty pointed. I think, Wolf, you said at the outset that you didn't expect either of these candidates to talk about abortion. Governor Romney made a very -- it was really clear that he was trying to point out to this audience that this was a pro-choice president who is having a battle right now with Cardinal Dolan over reproductive access and reproductive freedom for women.

So I think that certainly it was not totally apolitical. We weren't expecting that. But I thought that Romney was a little edgier. I think that his version of being self-deprecating is sort of like the Donald Trump version of being self-deprecating. I'm only a little bit great, and the other guy really kind of sucks. You know what? It was fun.

BLITZER: It was fun.

You left us with something to consider. Let's take a quick break. We have a lot more to discuss. Jim Acosta standing big over at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel as well. Some of the best moments from tonight, a look ahead to Monday's debate. Will the good feeling that existed tonight spill over into Monday. Maybe, maybe not. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Some in the media have a certain way of looking at things. When suddenly, I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? Polls show Obama leading from behind.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: And I've already seen early reports from tonight's dinner. Headline, Obama embraced by Catholics. Romney dines with rich people.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very funny line from Mitt Romney at the Al Smith Dinner in New York. Back with is right now, Gloria Borger, Ross Douthat, Tanya Acker. Over at the Waldorf Hotel -- Waldorf Astoria Hotel, I should say, in New York is Jim Acosta.

Jim, I thought Romney delivered his lines pretty well. He is not obviously a stand-up comedian. You don't often hear him cracking a lot of jokes. And very often on the stump when he does a joke, it doesn't necessarily work. But tonight, I thought he did well.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From my vantage point, I think he did pretty well too, Wolf. This was about the best seat I could get this evening to watch the festivities. And the car exhaust is making the jokes even funnier, if you don't mind me adding that.

But no -- yes, picking up on what you guys were talking about a few moments ago, the zingers were flying. Governor Romney, he did throw a few of them in the direction of the president and the vice president, perhaps a little bit more so than the president directed at Mitt Romney. I thought that was interesting.

They were sort of in line with his stump speech. He talked about those jobs numbers and the president's reaction to the jobs numbers being that you are better off now than you were four weeks ago. He did a Big Bird riff and talked about how the Sesame Street letter of the day for the president is "O" and the number is 16 trillion, sort of a dig at the president on the deficit.

He did direct some punch lines at himself, saying the way he engages in debate prep is to refrain from alcohol for 65 years. That line went over really well in this audience.

Yes, I think he did very well. Wolf, I think it also goes to show you how hyper-competitive these two candidates are. They were not about to let one one-up the other. They were both coming out with their A game tonight.

BLITZER: Yes, I want to play a little clip from the president. He had a little self-deprecating humor about his performance at that first presidential debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Funny, funny line. Let's go back to Gloria. Gloria, both of these candidates, the president, the governor, they have speech writers, but they also sometimes, shall with he say, outsource the writing of these jokes to seasoned professionals.

BORGER: Very often they outsource. I know they do at the White House when they have to get ready for the White House Correspondents' Dinner. They bring in the joke writers. And then the speech writers take another look at it. These things go through many, many hands.

I think tonight what you saw was two candidates trying to strike this balance we've been talking about, which is sort of getting in a dig at the other guy, friendly, and also getting in -- being able to dig at yourself. I mean, is when Mitt Romney spoke about Cuomo being able to run for president, he said, imagine that, having a father who was governor, being a one-term governor yourself, and think you are ready to run for president, which is, of course, his biography. So he could make fun of himself.

But he was pointed about the president and the economy and the rest of it. The president took some whacks at Mitt Romney and his wealth, for example. In fact, Romney took some whacks at his own wealth, saying this is the kind of garb that he and Ann wear at home every night.

BLITZER: He said normally during the day when I'm out to lunch, I'm wearing a business suit and tie and everything. It is good, he said, to show up at an event like this where I can, in his words, wear something that I wear around the house, a tuxedo and white tie.

BORGER: Don't you?

BLITZER: Yes, I look forward to wearing those white ties.

Ross, you don't even wear a tie, period. So you obviously can't even relate to anything that Mitt Romney does.

DOUTHAT: They wouldn't let me in tonight. It's the lack of a tie.

BORGER: We have to dress you up. Sorry.

DOUTHAT: Well, someday. I saw -- if Katie Couric and Chris Matthews can be there tonight, I think all of us here tonight can dream of one day sitting behind Andrew Cuomo and Bobby Jindal eight years from now or something.

BLITZER: They put a lot of the celebrities up on the dais, up on the platform there behind the speakers. That's the tradition of these dinners in New York, not only this dinner but other dinners as well.

Tanya, what did you think of that one line that Romney said? It was cute. It was funny. He said that the president was there at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel looking around. He may only have a month or so left in office. And the president saying to himself, so little time -- so little time, so little time to redistribute, if you will. I thought that was a cute little zinger at the president.

ACKER: Look, Wolf, I appreciate the president to be able to laugh at Mitt Romney when he is actually trying to do it on purpose. It worked out. He had a few one-liners that actually worked. They do speak to a political philosophy and economic philosophy that is very different from that of the president's. That's fair game at a dinner like this.

So I thought it was funny. I thought it was in good fun. I do think he was a bit edgier than the president. It's what you expect in this kind of campaign season. It was a nice softening of the tone for half a second.

BLITZER: I was very, very pleased with their summations when they both got very, very personal, and they reflected on the importance of this dinner. It is not only a dinner where you make fun of yourself, make fun of your challenger, make fun of New York a little bit. But it is also a dinner where they raise five million dollars for needy kids in New York.

All right, let's take a quick break. More of this coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Of course, we are down to the final months of the president's term. As presidents --

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he is thinking? So little time, so much to redistribute.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I'm still making the most of my time in the city. Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in Midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in midtown.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: One of President Obama's good one liners tonight at the Al Smith Dinner in New York. Back with us Gloria Borger, Ross Douthat, Tanya Acker and Jim Acosta.

Gloria, you saw that new Gallup poll. When they asked voters out there of the most important issues facing them right now. And when it comes to women, look at this, we'll put it up on the screen. The most important issue for women, registered voters, abortion 39 percent, jobs, health care, the economy, equal rights down to 19, 18, 16, 15 percent.

Were you surprised by this poll?

BORGER: I was surprised by that poll, Wolf. Because I think generally while women obviously care about the issue of abortion, the issue of contraception and a whole variety of social issues, the number one issue that we have seen in a lot of polls is the question of the economy. I think if you look at the polling of women in battleground states, it's very mixed as you go -- as you go from state to state.

So I was surprised by that -- by that result. But, again, Wolf, you look tonight, the battleground states new NBC poll has Iowa and Wisconsin, the president up. And so the question about the gender gap, with a gender gap that's in the double digits in the president's favor. Last week, we had some gender gap polls that showed something else. So this is a race in flux.

But I still think you'd have to say, right now, the balance with women really tilts towards President Obama.

BLITZER: In that Gallup poll, Ross, when they asked registered voters out there who are men what their most important issue is, take a look at this, a very different results than the women. Jobs being the most important for men and the economy, 38 and 37 percent, budget, health care, taxes, down in the single digits. Were you surprised by that?

DOUTHAT: No, those were the numbers you would expect to see. I think the first sample, the Gallup sample on women, suggests that the Obama campaign is having some success in terms of energizing their base. What's interesting is that overall women are almost as likely as men to identify as pro life versus pro choice. There isn't a huge gender gap on the issue of abortion. The gender gap is actually bigger on economic issues in general than on social issues.

So some of the women saying abortion matters most to them are pro-life voters. But I think when you dig into it, it is clear that it's more pro-choice voters who are responding probably to the Obama campaign's -- they have actually run more ads on abortion overall -- or more ads on abortion have been run than ads on Medicare, which is kind of an astonishing figure. So there clearly is a kind of social issues strategy from the White House in this campaign. And the question is, will it pay off?

BLITZER: And you see new ads from the Romney campaign, Tanya, right now stressing the fact that Romney believes there should be exceptions. He may be anti abortion, but there should be exceptions for those engaged in incest or rape or the life of the mother. So those exceptions he's stressing.

ACKER: Well, that's what he's saying now. But I think the governor has been incredibly hard, frankly, to pin down on how he feels about choice and reproductive freedom. I want to go back to Ross' point about how most voters identify as pro-life. I think that you really have to get behind what that term means.

I can appreciate his -- wait a minute. I can appreciate his sort of being able to speak to what issues are important to women, but the bottom line is that a majority of people in this country, certainly a majority of women believe that they, and not the state, should have the right to determine whether or not they procreate.

So I think that that -- his statement might be a little bit misleading in that respect. I think when we talk about why -- one minute -- why this issue is important to women, it's because right now, we're facing a presidential campaign in Governor Romney's that wants to take that right away. And this is something that the Supreme Court has said in Casey, which was the last time that Roe v. Wade was challenged -- the Supreme Court held in Casey that this is a right that is fundamental to women.

Women have oriented our lives around reproductive freedom. So the fact that now that somebody wants to take that off the table is pretty dangerous. And it's scary for a lot of women voters.

DOUTHAT: Just to clarify my point. I wasn't saying that the majority of women identify as pro-life. The country is basically evenly split, pro-life, pro-choice, on that identification. And it's evenly split among men and among women. The other thing I'd say is that there is strong public support for Roe v. Wade overall.

Mostly, though, when you dig into the numbers, people think that Roe v. Wade only legalized abortion in the first trimester, when, in fact, it legalized abortion pretty much throughout pregnancy without restriction. There is -- Americans in sort of a muddle on abortion. There's strong support for restrictions on second trimester abortions that Roe v. Wade makes impossible.

So I think you know -- yes, I'll leave it there.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring Jim Acosta in, because he covers Romney and Ryan on a daily basis. "The Orlando Sentinel" just came out with an editorial tonight endorsing Mitt Romney. Obviously that key area of Florida -- Florida, Florida, Florida, key battleground state. I'm sure the Romney folks are going to be happy about that.

ACOSTA: Well, Wolf, they're going to be very happy about that, because this is the same paper that endorsed Barack Obama four years ago. And so for Mitt Romney to take that away from the president I think is important.

We do have a clip from the editorial I can read to you. It says, "we have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget in the next four years. And for that reason, we endorsed him in 2008. We are recommending Romney in this race."

So that is a pretty significant development in this race, because that central part of Florida, Wolf, as you have been saying, we've all been saying for months now, is very key to the outcome of the state of Florida. Now, having said all of that, as Gloria just mentioned a few moments ago, the president is on safe ground right now it appears in Wisconsin, Iowa, two other very important battleground states.

BLITZER: We'll see how safe that ground is, because a lot can change. A big debate coming up Monday night, as all of us know. And they'll be heading out on the campaign trail from New York tomorrow. They'll all be practicing getting ready for the debate.

Remember, tomorrow night, the very latest on the presidential election right here on PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT. Piers will be back with his special guest, Tyler Perry and Ted Turner, the man who created CNN, a man I love.

That's all for us. "AC 360" coming up next.