Racial dig or friendly gesture?

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson discusses why Texas Gov. Rick Perry called fellow Republican presidential candidate "brother" during the GOP debate in Las Vegas.

Daily News City Hall Bureau

Rick Perry called one of his fellow Republican presidential candidates "brother" twice during Tuesday's debate – and it wasn't Mitt Romney.

Perry's term for Herman Cain, the GOP field's only African-American, raised eyebrows among political observers uncertain if the nickname was politically savvy, racially condescending - or just plain clumsy.

"It seemed to me that he was openly trying to befriend the only black man on the stage – and it was his way of trying to repair the talk about the hunting lodge," said Rev. Al Sharpton Wednesday.

Perry took heat recently when it was revealed that his family used to hunt at a Texas lodge dubbed "N---erhead."

The Texas governor took a break from attacking front-runner Mitt Romney in Tuesday's debate to criticize Cain's controversial 9-9-9 tax plan.

"Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something, you don't need to have a big analysis to figure this thing out," said Perry, who trotted out "brother" again a minute later.

Perry's phrase – which turned into a major topic of debate on Twitter – may simply have been a sign that the sputtering candidate was trying to endear himself to Cain and his supporters.

"It seemed like a stiff white guy trying to be friendly with a black man," said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"Herman Cain didn't blink," Jillson said, "and I assume that's because as a black man and lifelong Republican, he has to have developed something of a thick skin for clumsy white guys."

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