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