When presidential candidates appear at public forums, passions about the field are often on vivid display. On Monday, Senator John McCain received a question from a woman in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, that was blunt and harsh.
"How do we beat the bitch?" the woman asked.
McCain was obviously uncomfortable, trying to deflect the vitriol with humor and offering to give a translation. But he did not condemn the questioner, instead calling it an "excellent question."
He then addressed the question without any apparent doubt as to whom it referred.
"There was a poll yesterday," he said, "that shows me 3 points ahead of Senator Clinton in a head-to-head matchup. I respect Mrs Clinton."
The clip began showing on Web sites like Salon.com, the liberal site TPM.com and others, with bloggers asking why McCain had not taken the questioner to task.
A spokesman for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton declined to comment on McCain's response. But some of her advisers said they were surprised that he had not defused the moment more artfully.
Some of her allies have accused her male Democratic opponents of ganging up on her in their last televised debate.
McCain has studiously avoided personally attacking Clinton, whom he has said he likes. His campaign said Tuesday, "Mr McCain has on many occasions expressed his respect for Senator Clinton, just as he did when confronted with the question in South Carolina."