Obama pokes fun at possible 2012 challengers

WASHINGTON Sun Mar 13, 2011 10:34am IST

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington, March 11, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington, March 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama left no target untouched on Saturday, poking fun at his potential rivals in the 2012 presidential election in a speech to journalists and high-powered Washington officials.

Speaking at the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, where the policy is to singe but not burn, Obama began by making light of some Republicans' claims that he was not an American by birth, which, if true, would make him ineligible for the presidency.

Stepping to the podium, Obama nodded as the band broke into a version of rock star Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." anthem, and said, "Some things just bear repeating."

Some conservatives have said that Obama was not born in Hawaii as he said but rather in Indonesia, where he spent part of his childhood.

Obama then dug into House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, commenting on the "unusual coloring" of the perpetually tanned Republican leader. "I use to think it was a tan. But after seeing how often he tears up, I realized, that's not a tan, it's rust."

Turning his attention to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican considering a run for the party's 2012 presidential nomination, Obama said he had heard that "your friends at Fox News say you don't look like a president. Well, don't worry about it, they say the same thing about me every day."

Many Democrats view Fox, one of the leading cable television news channels, as being biased in its coverage in favor of Republicans.

Daniels was the Republican speaker at the dinner on Saturday and sat nearby as Obama spoke.

Obama then tweaked Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a rotund Republican who is seen as a possible contender for the 2012 nomination.

Referring to first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to make Americans healthier, Obama said, "When she said 'Run,' she didn't mean for president."

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, another possible 2012 contender, did not escape Obama's humor. Obama said Pawlenty, who was not at the dinner, was facing some tough questions such as, "Who are you and where did you come from?"

Obama could not resist tossing a zinger at Jon Huntsman, a Republican who is stepping down as U.S. ambassador to China to consider a run for the White House.

Knowing that conservatives would question Huntsman's service in a Democratic administration, Obama said with a laugh, "My dear, dear friend Jon Huntsman -- nobody has done more for my administration. He's the yin to my yang."

Huntsman was not at the dinner.

Obama also ribbed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, considered by some observers to be the frontrunner for the republican nomination. Romney was not at the event.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Paul Simao)

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