WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will have a rare joint encounter--when they share the debate stage Wednesday in Denver. They hardly know each other. The two first met in 2004--when they both spoke at the Winter Gridiron dinner--just after Obama was elected to an Illinois Senate seat--not yet even sworn-in--but clearly a rising star. In contrast, when Obama ran against Sen. John McCain in 2008--he faced a Senate colleague he knew personally for a few years.
Below, what I wrote about Obama and Romney speeches at the December, 2004 Winter Gridiron Dinner.
Democrat Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, both rising stars in their parties, keynoted Saturday's winter Gridiron Club dinner in Washington. Each used heavy doses of self-deprecating humor before the black-tie gathering of journalists. (Disclosure: I am in the club. )
Both men are mentioned as possible 2008 contenders, and that provided much grist for their respective funny shticks. Obama and Romney, the dueling stars, were very, very good. Romney was better, mainly because he also sang (a ditty to the tune of "Charley and the MTA") and he came with a witty visual presentation.
'Nowhere to go but down'
Romney had a few zingers aimed at Obama. Obama, he said, is not seeking the limelight" after all. Obama has said that again and again"-- then Romney named some of the many national shows Obama has been on just in the past few weeks.
Obama, who went on first, said everything changed for him after he keynoted the Democratic convention.
"It's like I was shot out of a cannon. I am so overexposed, I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse. "After all the attention -- People magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair, Letterman -- I figure there's nowhere to go from here but down. So tonight, I announce my retirement from the United States Senate. I had a good run."
He said he was not letting all the attention go to his head. He joked that he was hanging out with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson at a Los Angeles restaurant when Barbra Steisand called him on his cell phone.
And he counseled her, you can't just get caught up in the hype."
Of course, all the hype, said Obama, generates wacky tabloid coverage." And with that he hoisted a poster, a mock cover of the National Enquirer with the headline: Obama's shocking secret. He's Strom Thurmond's love child."
It is tough, kidded Obama, to live up to all the expectations. There are people in Kenya, his father's homeland, who expect his election to mean the United States will fund new roads, new bridges and new schools.
Joked Obama, "I had to explain to them how it works. First comes the invasion, and then billions in aid."