WASHINGTON (AP) — This high-stakes debate had some props that even the presidential candidates might want at their own events.
Jon Stewart came prepared with a mechanical pedestal he used to elevate himself, making the height-challenged comedian appear taller than the lanky Bill O'Reilly when he wanted to drive a point home.
‘‘I like you much better that way,’’ O'Reilly quipped at one point as he gazed up at his ideological foe.
The two celebrity gabbers have claimed their stakes to polar opposite ends of the political spectrum and on Saturday night they tangled in an event dubbed ‘‘The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium.’’
The 90-minute exchange between the Fox News anchor and the star of Comedy Central’s ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ saw them banter aggressively but good-naturedly over birth control, President George W. Bush and the so-called ‘‘War on Christmas.’’
The political feud between the two TV personalities dates back more than a decade. Stewart and O'Reilly love to disagree, but appear to hold nothing against each other afterward. The two have appeared on each other’s programs since 2001, but the face-off at The George Washington University marked their first head-to-head debate.
Appearing presidential in dark jackets under a sign reading ‘‘Yum, this banner tastes like freedom,’’ the two quickly turned to talk of government spending and the 47 percent of Americans that Republican Mitt Romney said in a video are dependent on government.
Stewart, defending government involvement in health care and social programs, said the U.S. from its earliest days has always been an entitlement nation.
‘‘We are a people that went to another country, saw other people on it and said, ‘Yea, we want that,'’’ Stewart said. ‘‘Have you ever seen ‘Oprah’s favorite things’ episode?’’
Asked who he'd like to see as president, O'Reilly dead-panned: ‘‘I'd have to say Clint Eastwood.’’
‘‘Well why don’t we ask him,’’ said Stewart, mocking the Hollywood actor’s widely panned speech in August at the Republican National Convention by getting out of his chair and staring at it while the crowd erupted in laughter.
In an apparent show of bipartisanship, Stewart even sat on O'Reilly’s lap at one point. ‘‘And what would you like for Christmas, little boy?’’ O'Reilly said.
‘‘The display that you saw tonight is why America is America. Robust, creative, no holds barred,’’ O'Reilly told reporters after the debate.
Organizers said about 1,500 people attended the event, but the main audience was intended to be online, where the event was live-streamed for $4.95. On Twitter, viewers complained they missed the event when the video servers crashed. Organizers said video will be available for download and that those who experienced problems will be eligible for a refund.