The Republican presidential nominee defended the ad anyway, saying Obama "chooses his words very carefully." The implication: Obama was slyly up to something when he said McCain's call for change in Washington is "lipstick on a pig," days after Palin made a lipstick joke at the Republican convention.
"He's very eloquent," McCain told The Associated Press and Florida newspapers in an interview, and "it was the wrong thing to say."
A day earlier, hard-nosed Republican tactician Karl Rove, a former adviser to President Bush, said some of McCain's ads were not truthful and both sides should cool the attacks.
McCain said of Obama's comment: "I didn't like it. So we respond. I think the American people will judge as to whether he and others have treated Governor Palin fairly or not." But he said he won't let attacks go unanswered.
McCain stood up for Palin at other times in the interview.
He was asked about nearly $200 million in congressional pet projects Palin requested for 2009 for her state, despite her boasts that she opposes such projects and his claim that she didn't ask for any. McCain responded by criticizing Obama for seeking more than $900 million in these earmarks, by one count.
"That's nearly a million every day, every working day he's been in Congress," McCain said. "And when you look at some of the planetariums and other foolishness that he asked for, he shouldn't be saying anything about Governor Palin."
Did he call her a pig?" McCain was asked. "No, I but know that he chooses his words carefully, and it was the wrong thing to say," he responded.
McCain cut off a question about the "Bridge to Nowhere," which Palin claims to have killed in Alaska even though Washington pulled back money for the project before she turned against it.
"The important thing is she's vetoed a half a billion dollars in earmark projects - far, far in excess of her predecessor and she's given money back to the taxpayers and she's cut their taxes, so I'm happy with her record," McCain said.
In addition to her current requests, state budget documents show Alaska requested 52 earmarks worth $256 million for 2008.