Barack Obama and John McCain at Saddleback forum

United States Presidential candidates Senators Barack Obama and John McCain each participated in a live forum broadcast from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, moderated by pastor Rick Warren. The forum was scheduled to showcase the candidates to evangelical voters who account for 26.3% of the American public.

Pastor Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren

During the forum the candidates were asked a series of identical questions by the pastor individually, with Senator Barack Obama going first and Senator John McCain going second after being held in a soundproof room as Obama was interviewed.

The candidates’ approaches to the questions and answers contrasted greatly. Obama took longer than McCain in answering the questions and was not able to answer as many. He relied heavily on allegories and quoted bible passages more often than McCain who focused more on his experience and positions on the issues.

On some questions the candidates differed in their interpretations. When asked who they believed were the three wisest people they would rely on as president, Obama answered that his wife and grandmother were at the top of his list along with a mix of Republican and Democratic Senators, McCain comprised his list of a broad range of people including the architect of the troop surge in Iraq, General David Petraeus, Democratic Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis and the former CEO of eBay Meg Whitman. For their toughest decision in life, Obama answered that deciding to oppose the Iraq War in 2002 was his toughest, while McCain stated that his refusal to leave his men behind in a POW camp in Vietnam when given the chance was the toughest decision he ever made.

On some philosophical questions the candidates differed in their moral stances. When asked when they believed individuals should be given human rights, Obama responded that the question was “above [his] pay grade” while McCain sharply replied that he believed it should occur “at the moment of conception.” On the concept of evil, Obama related it to the situation in Darfur and on America’s streets pointing out his belief that evil should be “confront“. McCain related it to radical Islamic extremism relaying that he believed evil should be “defeated.” He then promised that as president he would hunt Osama bin Laden to the “gates of hell.”

On a few questions the candidates had similar responses. They both answered that the biggest moral dilemmas in their life were personal mistakes they made when they were younger. For Obama it was his drug use, for McCain it was his failed first marriage.

Both candidates were on the stage together briefly between the interviews and shook hands and hugged in a moment symbolic of Warren’s call for civility at the beginning and end of the forum.

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