The Laugh Factory, featuring McCain and Obama

At the Al Smith dinner, it's actually traditional for the candidates to go negative against their opponent, but it's all in good fun.

By Alex Koppelman
Published October 17, 2008 1:45PM (EDT)

For one night during the presidential campaign, it's actually traditional for the candidates to go intensely, brutally negative against their opponents -- and themselves. The annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner is more like a roast than a real campaign event. And for this year's dinner, held Thursday night, both candidates were in top form.

Video of the speeches is at the bottom of this post, but here are a couple of my favorite zingers from each candidate for those who can't watch the video.

McCain: "I come here tonight to the Al Smith dinner knowing that I'm the underdog in these final weeks. But if you know where to look, there are signs of hope. There are signs of hope even in the most unexpected places -- even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats. I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me.

"I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary."

(In the video below, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is talking over that joke, but you can see Hillary Clinton's reaction -- she was cracking up.)

"You know, it's going to be a long, long night at MSNBC if I manage to pull this thing off. For starters, I understand that Keith Olbermann has ordered up his very own 'Mission Accomplished' banner. And they can hang that in whatever padded room has been reserved for him.

"Seriously, Chris, if they need any decorating advice on that banner, ask Keith to call me so I can tell him right where to put it."

Obama: "I have to say tonight's venue isn't really what I'm used to. I was originally told we'd be able to move this outdoors to Yankee Stadium, and -- can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested? I do love the Waldorf-Astoria, though. You know, I hear that from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room ... 

"In the last few weeks, John's been out on the campaign trail and asked the question, who is Barack Obama? I have to admit I was a little surprised by this question. The answer is right there on my Facebook page.

"But, look, I don't want to be coy about this. We're a couple weeks from an important election. Americans have a big choice to make, and if anybody feels like they don't know me by now, let me try to give you some answers. Who is Barack Obama? Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jorel to save the planet Earth ...

"If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it's possible that I'm a little too awesome. One other thing, I have never, not once, put lipstick on a pig or a pit bull or myself. Rudy Giuliani, that's one for you. I mean, who would have thought that a cross-dressing mayor from New York City would have a tough time running the Republican nomination? It's shocking. That was a tough primary you had there, John."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.