The Corner

How McCain Won Saddleback

Greetings from Lake Forest, California, site of last night’s McCain-Obama appearance at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. I have a story up on the forum and the pretty widespread feeling that John McCain won the evening. In the unusual setting, with unusual questions — unlike Beltway journalists, Warren had no interest in asking about what is on the front page of today’s Washington Post – the candidates were forced to draw on their experiences in life to craft their answers. And there’s no doubt that, from that perspective, McCain is simply a bigger figure than Obama. Even when he is admitting wrongdoing, as when Warren asked each man what was the greatest moral failure of his life. From my story:

Obama answered that he drank and “experimented” with drugs as a teenager, which he attributed to his own selfishness. McCain, on the other hand, said, “The failure of my first marriage. It’s my greatest moral failure.”

McCain’s actions in that matter are nothing to brag about, but what came from it onstage at Saddleback was the sense that he was willing to dig deeper and take a greater risk in his answer than had Obama. McCain knew that critics on the left, looking for a way to change the subject from the John Edwards affair, had been pointing to the end of McCain’s first marriage. But McCain took the subject straight on. “He could have avoided that altogether or come up with some other answer,” Chip Pickering, the Mississippi Republican representative, told me later in the “Messaging Room.” (There’s no “Spin Room” at Saddleback; just a “Messaging Room.”) “But he very quickly, cleanly, and clearly confessed his failure.” Still, I said to Pickering, adultery doesn’t sit well with evangelicals, and that’s what McCain was talking about, wasn’t it? “The clarity of confessing his failure — there will be respect in the evangelical community for doing so,” Pickering answered.

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