WASHINGTON (Reuters) – What a difference a word makes. Republican John McCainâ€™s presidential campaign has nicknamed rival Barack Obama â€œThe Oneâ€ to ridicule what they see as the Democratic candidateâ€™s messianic tendencies.
For McCain himself, Obama is simply â€œthat one.â€
Referring to an energy bill during Tuesdayâ€™s debate, McCain said: â€œYou know who voted for it? You might never know.â€
â€œThat one,â€ he said, pointing to Obama.
McCain was criticized after the first presidential debate on September 26 for refusing to look at Obama.
The Obama campaign seized on Tuesdayâ€™s remark as further evidence of McCainâ€™s contempt for his opponent in the November 4 election.
â€œLast time he couldnâ€™t look at Senator Obama, this time he couldnâ€™t say his name,â€ Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said after the debate. McCain did refer to his opponent as Senator Obama at other times in the debate.
Obamaâ€™s vice presidential running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, was more forgiving.
â€œI think when John knows heâ€™s sort of in an attack mode, itâ€™s always kind of difficult to look the other person in the eye,â€ Biden said on ABCâ€™s â€œGood Morning America.â€
â€œI think it reflects more his ill-at-ease with the attack he has under way,â€ Biden said.
The McCain campaign dismissed complaints about the comment. â€œI am shocked that they are again proving to be the fussiest campaign in American history,â€ advisor Nicole Wallace told CBS News.
Others were jarred by the remark. Washington Post columnist Tom Shales called it â€œdemeaning, nasty.â€
â€œThe snarled â€˜that oneâ€™ also contributed to McCainâ€™s image as a kind of mean old Scrooge, not so much a battle-scarred warrior as an embittered one,â€ Shales wrote.
â€œThat oneâ€ may have been a spontaneous comment, but â€œThe Oneâ€ has been a deliberate part of the campaignâ€™s communications strategy.
The McCain campaign on Tuesday handed out cuff links to reporters emblazoned with a mock presidential seal for Obama and â€œThe Oneâ€ engraved in script on the back.
A Web ad released by the McCain campaign in August mocked Obama as â€œThe Oneâ€ and compared him to Moses parting the Red Sea. The Obama campaign has condemned the nickname as â€œjuvenile.â€
(Additional reporting by Donna Smith and David Alexander; editing by David Wiessler)