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Rick Warren plans to get personal with McCain, Obama

August 15, 2008 | 11:15 am

How personal is Rick Warren planning to get when he interviews John McCain and Barack Obama during their appearance Saturday at his Saddleback Church in Orange County?

The evangelical leader and author told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he will ask the presumptive Republican and Democratic presidential nominees "questions about character, competence, about values, vision, virtue, about their convictions in leadership, about their experience. And I'm going to deal with their personal life because character matters. Their personal life does matter as a leader. God says so."

The personal stuff could get particularly touchy for McCain if it points back to his first marriage, which ended in 1980.  As the Los Angeles Times has reported, McCain obtained a marriage license to wed his current wife, Cindy, while still legally married to his first wife, Carol. McCain has said he behaved badly and that the collapse of his first marriage "was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity. The blame was entirely mine."

To be sure, if Warren wanted to be hard-edged about personal issues, he could probe Obama on why he stayed with Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. for two decades despite his now-former pastor’s incendiary sermons at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Warren's recent comments suggest he will take a higher road with the candidates. In referring to the general election, the mega-church leader recently told The Times, "It's not between a stud and a dud this year. Both of these men care about America. My job is to let them share their views."

Yet Warren took a stern tone on the topic of marital infidelity when asked by ABC's Jake Tapper about John Edwards' recent admission of cheating on his wife, Elizabeth. Warren said that while forgiveness must be instant, "There's a difference between forgiveness and trust."

Warren went on to acknowledge that he would have reservations about voting for someone who had cheated on his wife. "Because if  you can't keep your faith to your most sacred vow -- " 'til death do us part" -- how in the world can I trust you to lead my family? My government? My nation? ...  I think people first need to ask forgiveness and then earn trust back over time. Can trust be re-earned? Absolutely, but it takes time."

Even if Warren lets McCain off the hook on the demise of his first marriage, the Arizona senator still faces skepticism from parts of the evangelical community, which he has been courting in this election.

As Politico reports, top social conservative leaders in key battleground states are in an uproar over McCain's recent comments to the Weekly Standard that former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's pro-abortion rights views wouldn’t rule him out as a vice presidential prospect.

"It absolutely floored me," Phil Burress, head of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values, told Politico. "It would doom him in Ohio."

-- Stuart Silverstein

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