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Humor can help candidates, but it can backfire
President Barack Obama, for his part, has had better luck using humor to deflect questions about his own vulnerabilities — real or perceived.
During a St. Patrick’s Day reception this month, Obama was presented with a certificate of Irish heritage by the Irish prime minister.
“This will have a special place of honor alongside my birth certificate,” Obama deadpanned, deftly sending the message that any lingering doubts about where he was born are nothing but a joke.
Sometimes, humor can come back to bite a candidate long after the laugh lines have faded.
In 2004, when Romney was Massachusetts governor, he took a jab at the wealth of that year’s monied presidential candidate, Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
“There’s a senator from my state, you may have heard, that wants to get elected president,” Romney said at a Republican Governors Association dinner. “And I don’t know why he wants to do that because, of course, if he won he’d have to move into a smaller house.”
It may have been funny then, but the joke boomeranged when it resurfaced on the Internet this past week just as Romney is trying to combat an elitist image.
Perry, whose Republican presidential campaign quickly floundered in the primaries, took a big step toward rehabilitating his image with his appearance last weekend at a fancy Washington dinner for journalists and their guests.
He got plenty of laughs when he joked that his time as the GOP front-runner had been “the three most exhilarating hours of my life.”
He perfectly skewered Romney by quipping that during the GOP debates, he’d been tempted to turn to his rival and ask, “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”
Getting off a few well-rehearsed jokes — often written by someone else — is generally less challenging than displaying pitch-perfect humor day after day amid the grind of campaigning. Perry’s jokes, for example, were written by GOP speechwriter Landon Parvin.
But even some of the most carefully thought-out jokes, in the end, just aren’t funny.
Take President George W. Bush, at a White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2004. He narrated a slide show that included a photo of himself hunting around in the Oval Office and then quipped, “Those weapons of mass destruction gotta be somewhere.”
Critics said it was a callous joke, given all those who had died in the Iraq war.
Even some candidates with a natural funny bone have found that it doesn’t always translate well to a presidential campaign.
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