Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will halt hostilities to poke gentler fun at one another at a charity dinner after clashing in one of history's most contentious US presidential debates.
The White House foes, who made little secret of their antipathy at the debate on Long Island on Tuesday, were to sit metres apart at the top table at the glittering white-tie gala in New York's Manhattan's Astoria hotel on Thursday.
The appearance comes 19 days before the election, with the rivals locked in a nerve jangling and tight campaign and chasing one another through the handful of battleground states that will decide who calls the White House home.
The Alfred E Smith dinner, named in honour of a former New York governor and held to raise money for Catholic charities, has a reputation for a gentle brand of humour, although both men will try to score points.
In 2008, for example, Obama teased his then opponent John McCain about his age, and joked: 'If we keep talking about the economy, McCain's going to lose. So, tonight I'd like to talk about the economy.'
But both candidates also made jokes about themselves, and this year's dinner was expected to be a chance for Romney and Obama to appear warmer and more likable than they have in the rough-and-tumble of the recent campaign.
The evident dislike the men feel for each other - compounded by the tension both must feel with opinion polls showing they are neck-and-neck - came to a head on Tuesday night in a fiercely contested televised debate.
So tense was the encounter that Romney's eldest son, Tagg, a 42-year-old financier who has taken time off to support his father's campaign, told a radio station in North Carolina it made him want to 'take a swing at' Obama.
Obama had a bad night in the first debate on October 3 and came back all guns blazing on Tuesday, tagging Romney's tax plans as a 'sketchy deal' designed to bamboozle voters into backing tax cuts for the rich.
His performance steadied supporters concerned after the first debate, but there was bad polling news on Thursday to further rattle Democrats as Obama slipped seven points behind Romney in Gallup's daily tracking poll.
The former Massachusetts governor led 52 to 45 per cent among voters likely to cast ballots in the November 6 election.
Obama's campaign has already disputed the methodology of the poll, and a RealClearPolitics average of national surveys suggested Romney's lead was nearer one per cent.
Obama and Romney will meet in their last debate, in Florida on Monday, to discuss foreign policy, and Obama said he was looking forward to confronting the Republican on Iraq.
'You know ... he said that it was tragic the way I ended the war in Iraq. Last week he said we should still have troops in Iraq,' Obama said at a rally in the northeastern swing state of New Hampshire.
Obama, who ordered the raid to kill Osama bin Laden and ended the Iraq war, is seen as having a solid foreign policy record, but the fallout from the Benghazi attack in Libya has offered Romney an opening.
While Obama trailed through the northeast, his place was taken on the campaign trail in the Midwest by Democrat supporter and rock star Bruce Springsteen, who was campaigning for Obama in Ohio alongside former president Bill Clinton.
The Boss also had a solo stop planned for the president in another midwestern swing state, Iowa.