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Biden’s joke about his wife? It’s OK by Madam Speaker

So which stumble at Saturday’s Democratic love-fest in Springfield, Ill., will live on the longest -- Barack Obama introducing his running mate pick as “the next president,” or the Joe Biden crack about his wife that has not been universally well received?

If it’s the latter, at least Biden gets a pass on it from the highest-ranking woman in the history of American politics -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi had barely arrived in Denver on Saturday afternoon before she was holding court at a small luncheon with the media at the city’s historic Brown Palace Hotel.

As the session wrapped up and she was offering the expected prediction that the about-to-begin Democratic National Convention would “achieve its purpose” of sealing any overt cracks in party unity, a pesky reporter asked if Biden’s attempt at humor about his mate might exacerbate efforts to get all of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s hard-core backers on the bandwagon.

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Here’s what Biden had said in his debut as the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee:

“Ladies and gentlemen, my wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, is drop-dead gorgeous. My wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, she also has her doctorate degree, which is a problem. But all kidding aside. . . . “

Pelosi, who had spent much of the lunch depicting an America in dire straits after eight years of a Republican administration, didn’t miss a beat: “Lighten up,” she said. “We’ve got a planet to save.”

She added that if Biden found his wife beautiful, “That’s A-OK.”

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But what about the PhD part of Biden’s comment? That’s what sparked reaction in the blogosphere, including an item by Adele Stan on Huffington Post headlined: “Careful, Joe! ‘Smart Woman’ Jokes a Dicey Game.”

Of the “gorgeous” remark, Stan opined: “Nothing wrong with that. Who wouldn’t want to be described as such by his or her partner?”

But of the doctorate addendum, she wrote: “It was obviously a failed attempt at humor. Or perhaps I’m just a humorless feminist. Either way, one can only hope this isn’t a harbinger of gaffes to come.”

Obama lags as comics’ target

A new study of late-night political jokes finds the network comedians have clearly avoided humor about Obama, while piling the jokes on President Bush and Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

The study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs finds that only cable’s Comedy Central -- whose primary comedians, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, more closely follow daily headlines, which lately have been dominated by Obama -- has slightly more jokes about the freshman Illinois senator.

The study covered all jokes between Jan. 1 and July 31 in late-night monologues by Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Stewart and Colbert.

Apparently, Jimmy Kimmel was not deemed funny enough to be included, which should give his writers some ammo for their show.

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The center found that the network shows broadcast 169 jokes about Obama, compared with 428 about Bush. McCain drew 328 jokes. Clinton, who dropped out of the presidential race amid much political news in early June, still drew more than twice as many attempted yuk lines -- 382 -- as Obama.

On Comedy Central, Obama and McCain were close, with 207 and 201, respectively, while Clinton and Bush nearly tied at 179 and 177, respectively.

Combining the laugh lines from all five shows, Bush was the most mocked, with 605; Clinton had 562; McCain got 549; and Obama trailed, with 382.

Letterman had the most fun at Clinton’s expense, with 146 jokes about her and 46 about Obama. Leno had the most Bush jokes at 208, with Clinton right behind at 204.

Colbert worked McCain over the most, with 129 jokes, compared with 91 on Obama and 79 on Clinton. An example: “It’s time the media started trumpeting McCain’s exciting story: He’s old, and no one likes him.”

It’ll come as no surprise to everyone that the main focus of jokes about Vietnam veteran McCain was his age -- he turns 72 on Friday.

“McCain was asked how he’s going to conserve energy,” said Leno, who is 58 and being forced to retire from NBC next year. “He said by taking three naps a day.”

Obama’s recent overseas tour “may strike some as presumptuous,” said Stewart, who’s 45. “In fact, I joked that Obama would be stopping in Bethlehem to visit the manger where he was born.”

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Papers on radical Ayers to go public

A couple of days ago The Ticket wrote about how the University of Illinois in Chicago had sealed dozens of boxes of documents relating to the work that Obama did on a civic project there with William Ayers, the former 1960s radical.

Just like that, the university has now reversed itself. Shows what The Ticket can do when it exercises its clout -- a Chicago kind of word.

Actually, we had nothing to do with it. On Friday the school said it would release records of Obama’s service to a nonprofit organization linked to Ayers, now a Chicago education professor.

McCain’s allies have been trying to exploit the ties between Obama and Ayers, with a McCain supporter donating nearly $2.9 million for an independent TV ad focusing on Ayers, whose radical political group the Weathermen took credit for bombings that included nonfatal blasts at the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol four decades ago.

The records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which Obama chaired and which Ayers co-founded, will be made available to the public Tuesday, the university said in a statement.

National Review magazine had attempted to obtain the records and was told the donor had not cleared their opening. On Friday, the university said it now had legal authority to allow public access to the material.

Listen to Gergen, do the opposite

The Ticket has learned that at the highest levels of McCain’s presidential bid, there exists the “Dave Gergen theory of the campaign.”

According to a Washington Post piece that delivers the profile we’ve been waiting to read -- a look at McCain staff honcho Steve Schmidt -- here’s how the “theory” is put into practice: “If senior members of the campaign disagree on a strategic move, they watch what [CNN pundit] Gergen has to say. They then do the opposite.”

To be fair, the article notes that Gergen serves as “a metaphor for all talking heads.”

Schmidt is the fellow who brought discipline and focus to the McCain campaign within weeks -- and has watched his candidate gain momentum in the process. So much so that Gergen -- in the best pundit tradition -- felt compelled to write this: “From my perspective, Obama needs to introduce a game changer -- and fast -- before public opinion starts to gel around the notion that he is a phenom who deserves great respect but is not seasoned enough and would be too much of a risk in the Oval Office.”

We can’t help wonder if Schmidt, adhering to his rule of thumb, would disagree with that take.

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xcerpted from The Times’ political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www.latimes.com/ topoftheticket.


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