(CNN) - A spokesman for Rick Perry said the Texas governor was simply being friendly when he twice referred to Herman Cain as "brother" at the CNN Western Republican Presidential Debate on Tuesday.
"He is a friendly fellow. He uses that kind of language. And he views all those folks on stage as colleagues, as fellow Republicans, and he speaks accordingly," said communications director Ray Sullivan on CNN's "American Morning."
Sullivan added that Perry called Romney the same term. When former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Romney were arguing over health care at one point, Perry could be heard in the background using the word "brother" while trying to jump in on the discussion.
And then can you add the word "But" to transition to the next sentence (and put in SOME before eyebrow), as in:
But Perry raised some eyebrows when he made the reference, saying: "Herman, I love you, brother, but let me tell you something..." and "I'll bump plans with you, brother, and we'll see who has the best idea."
The Twitter universe especially lit up, with hundreds of people expressing surprise over Perry's use of the word.
Others used humor. Hip-hop artist @TalibKweli said: "Did I just see Rick Perry call Herman Cain "brother" twice like some sort of Texan Hulk Hogan?"
Comedian @KathyGriffin also weighed in: "Awkward. I'm waiting 4 Perry 2 say 'jive turkey.'"
But is "brother" a racially-tinged expression or is it, as some have argued, a nod to the two presidential candidates' common Christian faith?
As one Twitter user pointed out, sometimes Christians "great each other with Brother or Sister. Maybe that's the point Perry was making–We're both Christian."
This isn't the first time Perry's campaign has played defense on the issue of racism. Earlier in the month, a Washington Post report said Perry's family leased a hunting ranch that was previously marked by a painted rock with the word "N*****head."
Perry responded saying the story has a number of incorrect claims and that the rock had been painted over many years ago.