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Live-blogging the Saddleback Civil Forum, with Barack Obama and John McCain

August 16, 2008 |  4:32 pm

7:19 p.m. And now a final bit of analysis:

This event was meant to give voters a closer look at the candidates as people, and its most significant moments did not have to do with policy but with personality.Senators Barack Obama, John McCain, and Pastor Rick Warren at the Saddleback Forum

They took different approaches. Obama seemed to treat his time as an intimate conversation with Warren. He looked directly at the pastor when he spoke and only rarely turned toward the crowd. He talked a lot about his faith -- at one point quoting from the New Testament. He came off as thoughtful and even-toned, if not exceedingly engaging.

McCain was much more gregarious. He usually spoke directly to the audience, punctuating about every fifth sentence with the phrase "my friends." And he joked a lot -- as usual -- which played well with the crowd.

But considering that this was a forum at a church, he didn't talk much about his personal faith. He stuck largely to his stump speech, sprinkling it with engaging stories and anecdotes.

Compared to Obama, who spoke in long, nuanced sentences and made subtle points, McCain was much more direct. Several times he interrupted Warren to answer a question with a quick, one-sentence response.

It's too early to tell how their differences will affect voters' decisions in November.

But it's clear, after tonight, that those differences will make for some mighty interesting debates.

Here is a link to the full transcript of both sections of the event.

The running text of our live blogging continues below:

7 p.m. And . . . it's over! McCain's time is up, and he leaves the stage. 

6:55 p.m. When asked why he wants to be president, McCain rattles off his stump speech, almost verbatim -- the one that begins: "I believe that America's best days are ahead of us. . . . "

6:52 p.m. Warren and McCain are talking about the crisis in Georgia, which the senator refers to as "a beautiful little country." McCain gives....

... a short history lesson, telling Warren about the Georgian king who converted to Christianity in the third century.

He advocates a hard-line approach to Russia, saying, "Let's send the message to the Russians that this behavior is not acceptable in the 21st century."

6:40 p.m. Warren asks McCain about the right to privacy versus national security.

McCain says that America's law enforcement agencies need to step up their ability to monitor new forms of communication. "There's a constant tension," he says. "It is changing with technology, and we have to change with it."

McCain seems very loose tonight. He's cracking more jokes than Obama, and the crowd seems to be leaning his way.

6:20 p.m. McCain is going on and on about energy, uttering his stump speech mantra: "We need off-shore drilling, and we need it now."

Now Warren turns to the same set of three tough social questions that he asked Obama. These are the answers that the religious audience will be listening to closely.

Warren: "At what point does a baby get human rights?"

McCain: Life begins "at the moment of conception."

Warren: Define "marriage."

McCain: "A union between one man and one woman."

Warren: Should the government fund stem-cell research?

McCain: Like Obama, he advocates skin-cell research as an alternative to stem-cell research.

6:17 p.m. Warren asks McCain the same question he asked Obama: "What would be the greatest moral failure of your life?"

McCain says it was his behavior during the dissolution of his first marriage. This is significant, because McCain doesn't talk about his first marriage much. He says he takes responsibility for the divorce.

6:15 p.m. McCain is on stage now. Warren begins by asking him to name the three wisest people in his life.

His answers: Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, Rep. John Lewis (a Georgia congressman and civil rights advocate) and Meg Whitman (the former eBay chief executive who is a close McCain adviser).

Obama had been asked the same question. He listed his wife and his grandmother as the two wisest people in his life. He said that when it came to choosing advisers to his Presidency, he wouldn't restrict himself to three people -- though he did mention former Georgia senator (and potential running mate?) Sam Nunn as one of the wisest people in his life.

6 p.m. Obama's segment is over. He stands up with Warren, who calls John McCain to the stage.

And then -- the handshake! McCain leans over to Obama, and the two lock hands. As McCain pulls back, Obama puts his hand out to pat McCain's shoulder. It's more than a little awkward.

5:55 p.m. Warren is now talking about world issues. He asks Obama what he thinks America should do about religious persecution around the world.

Obama brings up China. He says that while China is a close American business partner, there are "very real persecutions taking place" there. He says Americans must also make changes to avoid charges of hypocrisy. "We have to lead by example. . . . We have to make sure we're abiding by moral law and by habeas corpus and not engaging in torture."

The camera pans, strangely, to the audience, where a man in a big American-flag T-shirt is clapping.

5:45 p.m. Warren has moved onto domestic politics and is talking about taxes.

Warren: "Define rich."

Obama poked fun at Warren, whose book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," was a best-seller. "Well, if you've got book sales of 25 million, you qualify," Obama jokes.

Warren laughs, gives Obama a high-five. Then Obama elaborates: "I would argue that if you're making more than $250,000, you're in the top 3% or 4% of the country, and you're doing well."

5:35 p.m. Warren has moved on to the tough ones -- abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research.

Warren: "At what point does a baby get human rights?" Obama skirts the issue. "From a theoretical perspective or scientific, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade." He goes on to say that while he is pro-choice, he is not pro-abortion.

Then Warren asks Obama to define "marriage."

Obama begins, "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman." He is interrupted by the crowd's applause. Then he says: "I am not someone who promotes same-sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions. . . .  I don't think [they] inhibit in any way what my core beliefs are." He says he can afford civil rights to gay couples without compromising his faith.

Warren asks about stem-cell research. 

Obama says that already-discarded embryos should be used for research but that it would be best to find other methods -- like adult stem-cell lines -- that are less problematic morally. 

5:28 p.m. After a commercial break that features an ad with bikini clad women doing ad work, we're back. Warren reads a question submitted by a church member. (He says he received about 2,000 questions.)

Warren: "What does your faith in Jesus mean to you?"

Obama: "It means Jesus Christ died for my sins. . . . I know that I don't walk alone."

5:16 p.m. Obama has entered the stage to polite applause and has taken a seat with Warren.

After asking Obama about the wisest people in the senator's life, Warren asks: "What would be the greatest moral failure of your life?"

Obama talks about his experimentation with drugs in his youth. He says he did it because he was selfish at the time.

5 p.m. Here we go! Rick Warren, standing on a purple-lit stage, is making his introductions.

"We believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics," he says, before explaining the format. Each candidate will get one hour with Warren. Obama will go first. While he speaks, McCain won't be listening.

"We have safely placed Sen. McCain in a cone of silence," Warren says to laughter.

Before he brings Obama on stage, Warren tells the crowd, "I have to tell you up front: Both these guys are my friends."

4:53 p.m. Inside the church, a Christian soft-rock band is warming up the audience of 3,000. Outside, scores of protesters clog the streets.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department estimates that there are 1,000 people there. Our Susannah Rosenblatt counts about 700.

There are McCain supporters, Obama supporters, antiwar protesters, anti-illegal-immigration demonstrators, abortion rights advocates, followers of libertarian candidate Bob Barr, followers of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and anti-same-sex-marriage protesters.

And there's a lot of yelling and sign-waving.

Our Seema Mehta passed by the melée on her way into the church and had this to report:

One woman carried a large picture of an aborted fetus that said "Barack Obama Change This." Others read "Obama Mama" and "Enough Dead." The requisite Ron Paul and Ralph Nader supporters made an appearance. Two people held three signs that read "God Hates Obama," "God Hates McCain" and "America is Doomed." And one man, inexplicably, held a sign that said "I Like Burritos."

Saddleback Church has got to be the safest place on the face of the Earth right now. The 120-acre campus was crawling with Secret Service agents, including at least four on the roof. Two helicopters buzzed overhead.

4:32 p.m. Hello, all. Today we’re going to be live-blogging the Saddleback Civil Forum, with presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain. The candidates will appear at the Lake Forest church this evening and give back-to-back, hourlong interviews with Pastor Rick Warren.

As our Maeve Reston reports today, the event will be an important preview of what's to come in the three presidential debates, the first of which takes place next month at the University of Mississippi. This will be the first time since the general-election campaign kicked off that the candidates will share a stage together.

They're expected to talk about faith, abortion, same-sex marriage and humanitarian efforts abroad. As we reported yesterday, Warren has promised that the conversations will get personal. "I'm going to deal with their personal life, because character matters," the evangelical leader and author of "The Purpose-Driven Life" told the Christian Broadcasting Network. "Their personal life does matter as a leader. God says so."

For more on Warren, who has been called "America's most influential pastor," check out Duke Helfand's recent profile.

To watch live coverage alongside us, you can tune in to CNN, MSNBC, the Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, the Daystar Television Network or KDOC-TV. And live Web streaming of the event will be available here.

We'll have a play-by-play of the candidates' conversations with Warren as well as dispatches from our reporters inside and outside the church.

-- Kate Linthicum

Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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