During a discussion about energy, McCain punctuates a contrast with Obama by referring to him as "that one," while once again not looking in his opponent's direction (merely jabbing a finger across his chest). That's not going to win McCain any Miss Congeniality points. Nor will it reassure any voters who believe McCain is improperly trying to capitalize on Obama's "otherness."
This goes beyond refusing to look at Obama in the first debate. With this slightly dehumanizing phrase, McCain may have just played into the emerging narrative of Obama-hate that has been sprouting at McCain-Palin rallies.
Darren Davis, a professor at Notre Dame who specializes in the role of race in politics, sent a comment to the Huffington Post about McCain's "that one" remark. "It speaks volumes about how McCain feels personally about Obama. Whomever said the town hall format helps McCain is dead wrong," Davis wrote.
A few minutes later, Obama spokesman Bill Burton placed his foot on the pedal ever so slightly. In an email blast to reporters, he asks: "Did John McCain just refer to Obama as 'that one'?" No other commentary followed, nor did any mention of race. But expect the post-debate analysis to get a little focused on whether McCain just made a regrettable faux pas.
The Politico has the McCain camp's spin on the line:
"The most memorable line of the night belonged to John McCain. McCain pointed out that "That One" vote for the 05 energy bill. Look for Republicans to note in coming days that "That One" also voted for higher taxes at least 94 times; "That One" has associations with unrepentant terrorists, etc..."