- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

NEW YORK Al Gore and George W. Bush poked fun at each other and themselves last night at a charity dinner where the exchanges were decidedly lighter than the often acrimonious presidential debates that ended just 48 hours earlier.

The vice president lampooned his own tendency to exaggerate, his overheated debating style, his boss and even his running mate's religion. He also took a few shots at the Texas governor.

Mr. Bush mocked his own lack of intellectual curiosity, his penchant for mangling the polysyllabic names of foreign leaders, his love of partying and his struggles in a state governed by his brother.

"Some people call you the elite," Mr. Bush told several hundred guests in gowns and white ties. "I call you my base."

Although Mr. Bush ended his jokes on a magnanimous note, wishing his opponent well but not success, he seemed to go after Mr. Gore more than himself.

He made fun of the vice president's identity struggles and fund-raising scandals, even taking a poke at first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's dubious devotion to the New York Yankees.

The Republican nominee said he was on his way to the ballroom in his tuxedo before dinner when he encountered a woman who told him to wear "more earth tones."

"I think her name is Naomi, or something like that," Mr. Bush said in reference to Naomi Wolf, Mr. Gore's former image consultant. "The odd thing was, she handed me a bill for $15,000. Can you imagine, a grown man paying $15,000 for somebody to tell you what to wear? Heck, $15,000 these days gets you a sleepover in the Lincoln Bedroom."

To be sure, Mr. Gore took a couple of partisan potshots, including a joke about the Texas governor having failed as a businessman. But by and large, the vice president spent more time mercilessly deprecating himself.

"I want to acknowledge [Federal Emergency Management Agency] Director James Lee Witt, who accompanied me here tonight," Mr. Gore said. "We travel everywhere together."

Mr. Gore had to admit after the first debate that a story he told about surveying wildfire damage in Texas with Mr. Witt was false.

The vice president also poked fun at his own 1996 fund raising at a Buddhist temple.

He surveyed the crowd in tuxedos and asked, "This is a fund-raiser, isn't it? Whenever I see anyone dressed the same way, my antenna goes straight up."

The scene for the exchanges was the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner in Manhattan, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for Catholic charities.

Mr. Gore addressed a descendant of Mr. Smith, a New York Democratic governor who in 1928 became the first Catholic presidential nominee, by saying, "Your great-grandfather was my favorite kind of governor the kind who ran for president and lost."

Moments later, Mr. Bush took the microphone and said that he, too, was heartened by the lesson of the late Mr. Smith because, "It gives me hope that in America, it's still not possible for a fellow named Al to be the commander-in-chief."

The annual white-tie affair last night was attended by hundreds of dignitaries and politicians, including Mrs. Clinton and her opponent in the New York U.S. Senate race, Rep. Rick Lazio.

But the headliners were clearly Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush, who concluded their final presidential debate only two nights earlier. The debates were still fresh in both candidates' minds.

The dinner began in 1945, the year after Mr. Smith's death. Sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the annual gathering mixes politics and religion, humor and controversy.

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