White House foes to speak at famed dinner

September 17, 2008 2:08:33 PM PDT
Presidential rivals John McCain and Barack Obama agreed Wednesday to participate in what historian and author Theodore H. White once called "a ritual of American politics" - the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. The 63rd annual dinner on Oct. 16 at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel has been a requisite stop for most politicians since the end of World War II. The white-tie affair has featured a galaxy of speakers from Winston Churchill (who spoke by trans-Atlantic telephone to the 1947 gathering) to Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and both President Bushes.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke at the 2007 dinner.

The dinners, named for the former four-term governor of New York who was the unsuccessful 1928 Democratic presidential candidate and the first Catholic to run for president, are generally lighthearted affairs that benefit a charitable foundation that has raised millions for health care causes over the decades.

At the 2000 dinner, Al Gore and George W. Bush swapped some memorable one liners.

Bush: "The story of Al Smith's historic run for the presidency is truly inspiring. It gives me hope that, in America, it's still not possible for a fellow named Al to be commander in chief."

Gore: "I never exaggerate. You can ask Tipper or any one of our 11 daughters."

Smith was the first Catholic to be nominated by a major political party to run for president. A Democrat, he served four two-year terms as New York governor, from 1919 to 1920 and 1923 to 1928.

This year's dinner comes one day after the presidential candidates meet in their final debate on the Hofstra University campus in Hempstead on Long Island.

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