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July 24, 2008

McCain's Evangelical Moment?

John McCain and Barack Obama have accepted invitations to sit down with Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren at his Saddleback Church for public (and open-media) interviews just before next month's big nominating conventions. David Brody sees the forum as presenting John McCain a golden opportunity to have an "evangelical moment," wherein the Arizona senator can finally come out forcefully on two key issues: life (i.e. against abortion rights) and marriage (i.e. against gay unions):

[W]ith Obama there as well, he has a MAJOR opportunity to clearly showcase the differences between the two candidates on social issues. He can talk about the unborn baby and the abortion issue; he can talk about his support for the California Constitutional Marriage Amendment.... It's McCain's clearest opportunity yet to paint himself as a "friend" of the Evangelical community.

God-o-Meter is skeptical that he'll seize this opportunity. The press release for Warren's summit makes clear that his questions will focus on four areas: poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate, and human rights. Warren is sending the clear message, in other words, that he won't be fixating on hot button issues. So it could be up to McCain, as Brody to bring those issues up himself, which Brody acknowledges. The record show that one of the Christian Right's major gripes about McCain is his habit of completely ignoring those issues unless he's asked about them point blank. So what are the chances he departs from that at Saddleback, especially when his interlocutor--Warren--is out to bridge the country's ideological differences?

Pretty small, God-o-Meter thinks. But he has been bulking up his ranks of faith advisors, and maybe they'll get through to McCain in the month before he sits down with Warren. But there are risks involved: McCain could look like he's pandering--or come off as a divider at a "unity" event.

This article is cross-posted from Beliefnet's God-o-Meter.