The gloves are off on.

But then something weird happens: He acknowledges the “energy” people have been showing at rallies, and how glad he is that people are excited. But, he says, “I respect Sen. Obama and his accomplishments.” People booed at the mention of his name. McCain, visibly angry, stopped them: “I want EVERYONE to be respectful, and lets make sure we are.”…

And then later, again, someone dangled a great big piece of low-hanging fruit in front of McCain: “I’m scared to bring up my child in a world where Barack Obama is president.”

McCain replies, “Well, I don’t want him to be president, either. I wouldn’t be running if I did. But,” and he pauses for emphasis, “you don’t have to be scared to have him be President of the United States.” A round of boos…

UPDATE: Indeed, he just snatched the microphone out the hands of a woman who began her question with, “I’m scared of Barack Obama… he’s an Arab terrorist…”

“No, no ma’am,” he interrupted. “He’s a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements.”

He did the right thing, needless to say, but I’m not sure how this squares with Palin telling people at fundraisers how many supporters are urging her to take the gloves off. It all goes back to this morning’s post: McCain wants to win the election but doesn’t seem to have the stomach to get truly nasty, so he compromises by bringing up Ayers but not pressing the issue too much. Gotta commit one way or another, champ. As it is, it’s a sad, strange situation to have one candidate forced to stick up for the other candidate in front of his own audience.

Now that he’s defended Obama, I think it gives The One cover to call him out on it at the debate on Wednesday in the guise of, “John, I appreciate you trying to set the record straight on my behalf, but this climate you’ve created…” etc etc. In the meantime, here’s the only video I’ve been able to find thus far. Shuster aired the footage where the woman in the audience calls Obama an Arab a few minutes ago, and McCain really did almost yank the mike out of her hand before she could get going and make it worse. It’s not up on MSNBC’s website yet, but if I see it somewhere, I’ll update. Click the image to watch.

Update: Here’s the CNN video via TPM. Best I can do on short notice.

Update: Depending on how much press coverage this incident gets this weekend, I wonder if he won’t decide to abandon the Ayers stuff altogether.

Update: Cox’s transcript is wrong, incidentally. The questioner doesn’t call Obama a terrorist.