America saw the first real, refreshingly candid, civil and
thoughtful discussion of morality and leadership in the Saddleback
forum last night with Pastor Rick Warren asking the questions in a
non-partisan atmosphere. Finally.

Sunday morning news shows and print media are filled with analyses
on how it went and what it told us. Both candidates did very well and
received polite, sometimes rousing, applause from the audience at the
event. But of course, the question is always “who won?”

Some say McCain scored big points with evangelicals, a part of what might have been considered his base before but a group that’s been reluctant to back him.

Pundits have long said he can’t win without them and now
it seems that U.S. Republican presidential contender John McCain may
finally be wooing his party’s evangelical base…McCain, an Arizona
senator and war hero, hit the right political buttons before a
nationally televised audience and thousands at Warren’s massive
Saddleback Church, stressing the emphatic opposition to abortion rights
that is his trump card with social conservatives.

Religious conservatives said the performance gave him a lift at a
time when polls also show him gaining ground with the Republican base…

“It gives McCain a bounce. Most social conservatives want to know
that he has a faith in God, but what they are looking for is where that
leads him to stand on the issues,” Perkins, a leading figure in the
“Religious Right,” told Reuters.

Byron York has this take at NRO.

Obama can be remarkably polished in this sort of
situation. Unlike other Democrats, he’s not afraid to hang out with
evangelicals. McCain, on the other hand, can at times be cranky and
take pleasure in irritating his base. Could he come out ahead in this
one?

Team McCain needn’t have worried. This was not your usual political
TV show. Warren — Pastor Rick, around here — asked big questions, about
big subjects; he wasn’t concerned about what appeared on the front page
of that morning’s Washington Post. And his simple, direct, big
questions brought out something we don’t usually see in a presidential
face-off; in this forum, as opposed to a read-the-prompter speech, or
even a debate focused on the issues of the moment, the candidates were
forced to call on everything they had — the things they have done and
learned throughout their lives. And the fact is, John McCain has lived
a much bigger life than Barack Obama. That’s not a slam at Obama;
McCain has lived a much bigger life than most people. But it still made
Obama look small in comparison. McCain was the clear winner of the
night.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....