By Samantha Hayes in Washington, D.C.
The reporter who prompted John McCain's most recent wisecrack asked the senator a relevant question. The exchange happened while McCain was in Pittsburgh Tuesday, waiting on a cheese steak.
The Associated Press reporter asked McCain about a report that showed U.S. exports to Iran had increased in the last seven years by a lot - tenfold, in fact. An interesting bit of information given the Bush administration has been trying to tighten the financial noose on Iran with economic sanctions. The reporter also added an interesting point to his question, by mentioning that cigarettes were at the top of that export list. And that's what spurred McCain to say, "Maybe that's a way of killing them."
He followed up that quip quickly: "I meant that as a joke, as a person who hasn't had a cigarette in 28 years."
His wife, Cindy, reminded him that it had actually been 29 years since he smoked. Nevertheless, his joke made news, probably because it's certainly not the first time some have considered the senator's humor a bit off color.
Last year during a campaign top in South Carolina, McCain was asked by a local man when the U.S. was going to send an "airmail message" to Iran. In response, McCain changed the lyrics of the Beach Boys' song "Barbara Ann" to "Bomb Iran."
McCain's side comment this week, while meant as a joke, comes at a sensitive time. Just this morning Iran test fired long range missiles. Both presidential candidates are responding to what they consider a serious threat, knowing that the public is judging them as if they were in the Oval Office.
Tensions are high between the two countries, and voters may be sensitive to McCain's shoot from the lip humor. For the Arizona Senator, it's a good opportunity for "Straight Talk" about foreign policy and national security, where he generally receives high marks.