The story, which was reprised on the blog Rum, Romanism and Rebellion before being blasted out by Think Progress, goes like this: In an appearance before the National League of Cities and Towns in Washington D.C., McCain supposedly asked the crowd if they had heard "the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die?"
The punch line: "When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, "Where is that marvelous ape?"
Eeeshh. The joke, as one can imagine, did not go over well with various women's groups, which responded with indignation. But the McCain campaign denied that he had ever said the offensive gag.
"It's pretty obvious to us that this is a politically motivated sideshow," Torrie Clarke, McCain's spokeswoman at the time, said back in 1986. Till this day it has never been proven definitively true or false whether the Senator ever said the line.
The Huffington Post reached out to the original reporter in that story, Norma Coile (who after talking to multiple sources months after it was told wrote about the response to the rape joke in the Tuscon Citizen) to find out if she thought it was true.
"I'm not sure exactly what the wording was of the joke, but something was said. Some joke involving a rape and ape was said. Enough women repeated it to me at the time and the McCain campaign had a non-denial denial," said Coile, now with the Arizona Daily Star. "It came after his 'Seizure World' joke, in which he referred to the [retirement community] Leisure World as Seizure World... I just think it reinforced this idea that John McCain is humor-challenged. Whatever his qualities, he seems to have a tin ear for how these jokes will go over."
Indeed, while this anecdote occurred more than 20 years ago, McCain has occasionally found himself with his foot in his mouth throughout his time in public office. Back in 1998, he odiously declared before a GOP crowd: "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno."
More recently he joked that it might be good for the United States to keep exporting cigarettes to Iran as cancer would prove an effective weapon against that country's citizens.
But venturing into the extremely sensitive subject of rape and humor is not something that - even 22 years later - will endear McCain to the women voters his campaign has sought to recruit. And organizations in Arizona that weighed in on that 1986 line see it as another example of the Senator not being sensitive to female issues and concerns.
"I don't think we can say one example like that is indicative of someone's character. But certainly I think John McCain has made lots of quotes where he says jokes like that," said Linda Barter, head of the Arizona Women's Political Caucus, which objected to McCain's joke at the time. "Our organizational purpose, however, is to increase the number of elected and appointed women, and we support pro-choice women, so there is certainly a division there. John McCain has not been pro-choice or supportive of issues related to women's reproductive health."