By Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Taking a break from weighty matters of state and pitched battles with political foes, President Barack Obama exercised the lighter side of his authority Wednesday by sparing two magnificent turkeys the fate of becoming someone's Thanksgiving dinner.
"The office of the presidency, the most powerful position in the world, brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities," he said as one of the turkeys strutted around the stage next to him. "This is not one of them."
The pardoning event, an annual ritual, took place under the awning of the White House's North Portico as a small crowd squeezed together to escape a pelting rain, providing material for wags in Washington. Cable television network C-SPAN, best known for its live coverage of Congress, boasted that it was offering "gobble to gobble coverage" of the ceremony.
The president announced that, after the public voted, a turkey named Popcorn was declared winner of the 2013 National Thanksgiving Turkey competition over his rival Caramel. Popcorn, an almost 2-foot tall, 40-pound fowl with a blue-tinged head, fanned his tail feathers spectacularly as he strolled about the stage under the watchful eyes of several minders.
Obama, who has said his ability to get elected to the White House despite his Kenyan family last name is a testament to America's tolerance and diversity, displayed a politician's appreciation for both the winner and loser of the contest.
"The competition was stiff, but we can officially declare that Popcorn is the winner, proving ... that even a turkey with a funny name can find a place in politics," Obama said.
"As for Caramel," he added. "He is sticking around and he's already busy raising money for his next campaign."
Americans have been sending presidents turkeys for Thanksgiving since the 19th century, the White House said. George H.W. Bush was the first president to officially pardon a bird in 1989, the White House added.
Popcorn and Caramel were both raised on a farm in Minnesota. After the pardon, the birds will be on display just outside the nation's capital at Mount Vernon, the estate that first U.S. president, George Washington, called home.
(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; editing by Gunna Dickson)