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Run-Up to the Presidential Candidates Forum

Aired August 16, 2008 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One hour from now, Barack Obama and John McCain in their first joint event -- a major moment in this historic presidential campaign. The site -- Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of the largest in the nation. Senior Pastor Rick Warren will lead the presidential forum, using issues of faith, and help voters decide which man should be the next president of the United States.
(on camera): Good evening. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing some of your Saturday evening with us, as we bring you a major moment in this historic presidential campaign.

The event is called the "Civil Forum on the Presidency," but it's much more than that. It's the first joint event, the first time Barack Obama and John McCain will share a stage since they became their parties' choices for president. And with just 80 days to go until Election Day, it is a major milestone on the campaign.

To help us tonight before the forum and as well extensive coverage after the forum, we have members of the best political team on television. We also have some political analysts with unique insights into the role of faith in politics, all standing by to weigh in on this big night.

We begin, though, with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She is live on the scene of the forum in California, at the Saddleback Church.

Candy, set the stage for us, a big night.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, a big night. I don't know if you can see it, but behind me, people have been filing in. They did have to pay for these tickets. Rick Warren says they will go to one of his many projects around the world. This really is going to be an interesting forum, John, because as you know, religion has played a huge part in the early months of this campaign and is expected to play one as we move into the fall campaign.

Again, as you said, the first time these two men have shared a forum together. Now, they will not be together except for a handshake, we're told. They are back-to-back hours with Warren.

We did talk to Warren a little bit earlier this week and asked him the sorts of questions he thought he might pose to these two candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REV. RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK CHURCH: I'm trying to create some questions that are -- don't have any wiggle room in them, but I want to know how they handle a crisis because a lot of the things in the presidency often deal with things you don't know are going to happen. That we don't know will happen in the next four years.

And, I think, issues of humility, issues of generosity, issues of compassion, issues of flexibility, how they change their minds, what causes them to make decisions, how they make tough decisions -- there are a lot of different things you can deal with in the life of a leader that will tell us more about the candidate than some of the typical questions.


CROWLEY: So, in fact, a broader forum really than we're used to, certainly, in terms of issues hearing these candidates talking about. It has been about wedge issues in most campaigns, about abortion, about gay marriage. So, what we are hearing here from Warren is that he is going to broaden this out. How does your religion, how does your faith, how do your values, in fact, inform your decisions that you'll make as president? So, again, a very broad subject and a long time with each of this candidate, John -- an hour.

KING: An hour each and we will listen. Candy, stay with us.

I want to bring in CNN's Dana Bash and Bill Schneider, a senior political analyst to join the conversation.

Dana, let's follow up on Candy's point. We're going to talk a lot on this hour and a lot after this forum about the role of faith in politics but let's talk about the moment. Just at this moment, the first time these two men will share a stage, not share a debate but will share a stage, have a handshake, 80 days before we get to the election. It is not a debate, but it is a joint appearance. The race is still remarkably competitive.

How do they look it from the McCain campaign standpoint?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, with the way they look at it, John, is that they'll take what they can get, but this is certainly not the kind of political appearance that John McCain has been pushing for day after day since Barack Obama became his official Democratic opponent. As you know, what John McCain has been pushing is the idea that he wants joint town hall appearances, the two side- by-side answering questions from regular voters.

Instead, what we're going to have tonight is the two of them -- yes, it is a huge political moment and it's the first time when we see them shaking hands, but instead, you're going to have John McCain in kind of a game show sort of a situation where he's going in a room where he can't hear what Barack Obama is going to be asked and then he's going to come out and answer the same questions that Barack Obama would have been asked for an hour before him.

So, it is an important moment, but certainly not the kind of thing that the McCain campaign and John McCain himself has been pushing for for a long time in terms of the kind of joint event he wants with Barack Obama.

KING: And, Bill Schneider, we don't expect all the questions to be about faith. But if it is a person of faith watching at home around America, are the stakes higher for one candidate or the other? And then, in asking the question, I want to raise our recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll taken in late July. It shows that among born again or evangelical voters -- always critical to the Republican nominee -- 67 percent for McCain, 24 percent for Obama.

That's a big edge for McCain, Bill, but not as much as George W. Bush has pulled among them.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. George W. Bush got 78 percent of the white evangelical vote against John Kerry in 2004. McCain at 67 percent is not quite where Bush was. But it's still early, of course, and there's a couple of months for the evangelical vote to rally, if, indeed they rally behind McCain. A lot of them have been distrustful of McCain in various times in the past, like the 2000 campaign, they thought he insulted them. More recently he said he would be willing to consider a running mate who supports abortion rights, which threw them into some consternation.

So, they don't really trust McCain, and a lot of them also really don't like Barack Obama. He's got to get the message across to evangelical voters that while he does not agree with them on some important issues, they don't have to fear him, that they should not see him as a threat. So, they want a message.

And more important than that, really, is the fact that there's lots of Americans of faith out there in the audience tonight who are not necessarily evangelicals or part of the religious right. They are very serious about their religion and about their faith, but they have a much broader perspective and a lot of them do favor Barack Obama.

KING: And, Candy, Barack Obama just back from his Hawaii vacation, flying into California, I believe, late last night or he hopped to Chicago and then back to California if I have that correct. Do they view this as a debate, even though the two candidates will not side- by-side in the same stage in asking -- I mean, do they view it as such a big event that he's had preparations for it, Q&A sessions?

CROWLEY: You know, they actually -- when I talked to the people around him, they say this is something that he has discussed throughout this campaign, as you know. He's had to address the Internet promotion through e-mails that he is a Muslim. He's had to address Jeremiah Wright. He has been in churches.

He has talked to CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, I was told by David just a little bit earlier, four times. He has done interviews with them.

There's a huge outreach within the Obama campaign to evangelicals, to people of faith. So, this is not something that they felt that he really needed to prep for, because he has done so much along these lines since January.

KING: And the flipside of that, Dana, Candy is making the point that in this campaign, what might be unique about it, at least in recent history, the Democrat seems at times more comfortable talking about his faith than the Republican. Has McCain spent a lot of time preparing for this?

BASH: He has. He has Charlie Black who's a senior advisor, who was working with him in a lot of ways on debate prep and has been working with him on preparing for this. One thing that I'm told is that, you know, this shouldn't come as a big surprise, given what people know about McCain's relationship with the evangelical community, is that they do hope inside the McCain campaign that he does and can use this forum to try to seal the deal with a lot of evangelicals who are still skeptical of the fact that he is not one of them, that he doesn't necessarily talk their talk or walk their walk. He's going to make clear, if he has the opportunity, that he does stand by them -- stand with them on most social issues.

But the other thing that's interesting about this particular forum, John, is that Rick Warren, who's obviously hosting it, is somebody who is not your father's evangelical. He's not somebody -- he's of the younger different kind of movement, and, you know, he wrote the book -- excuse me. I'm forgetting (ph) the name of the book.

He wrote a book about looking forward and putting people -- you know, putting things before yourself. And this is the kind of thing that John McCain has been pushing on the campaign trail -- country first. That's what's behind John McCain now at every single one of his campaign stop. So, they're going to try to connect the new evangelical movement with the kind of message that John McCain is pushing every day on the campaign trail.

KING: Much more to talk about as we anticipate this big event -- the first time Barack Obama and John McCain are at the same event since they've clenched their party's nominations. Much more as we stand by for the civil forum, we'll have much more ahead, including the man who will be running the show tonight, the pastor, the senior pastor of the 22,000-member megachurch that is the site of tonight's forum -- Pastor Rick Warren, when we come back with our special coverage. Stay with us.


KING: They will not be on stage together, but senators McCain and Obama will face some tough questions tonight on the stage of one of America's largest megachurches. Asking those questions is one of the America's most influential pastors, Rick Warren, author of the "Purpose Driven Life."

Let's bring in David Brody from the Christian Broadcasting Network, he's on the scene and he is CBN senior national correspondent; and bringing back CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

To the point Dana was making before the break, Candy and David, this is not your father's evangelical. Rick Warren is a -- more a pastor who tends to avoid the more divisive issues in hopes of spawning a larger, more civil conversation.

Candy Crowley, does that make it easier for the politicians, or would do they prefer a sharper discussion?

CROWLEY: I'll tell you, it makes it easier for Barack Obama, and here's why. The Democrats, for 10 years, have tried to get rid of that image that somehow they are not the party of family values. And so they looked at this, and what they've been trying to do is broaden the discussion away from issues of abortion, away from gay marriage and talk about feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, looking at the broader world, AIDS.

I can tell you that Obama has already been here to this church, talking, in fact, with Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, about the fight against global AIDS.

So Democrats think if they can move the subject of religion and values onto their turf, which they see as helping the homeless, helping the hungry, helping people who are in need, that they can win this argument about, you know, the party of God or at least move into that realm and what Obama would really like to do, and I think you saw that in these polls, what he'd like to do, at least, among white evangelicals is keep down the vote for McCain with this broader approach to religion and values.

KING: And David Brody, help us put Rick Warren into context. Many Americans, if they're talking about faith and politics in the context of a presidential campaign, are used to hearing from people like the Reverend Pat Robertson, or the late Jerry Falwell, or maybe James Dobson from Focus on the Family, or Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who we will have in the program a bit later. Who is Rick Warren? Where does he fit in?

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Well, he fits in very prominently. And, you know, I asked him this week when I sat down and talked to him about this political list, you know, the Tony Perkins of the world and the James Dobsons of the world have database that the John McCain camp desperately wants.

But here comes Rick Warren and he's got a different sort of database. It's not necessarily about voters per se but it's about pastors, it's about a church network and that is what the McCain camp and the Obama campaign want to discuss a little bit from at least a political standpoint. And that's why Rick Warren can be politically effective for both candidates.

KING: David Brody and Candy Crowley, we need to lose them because they need to go inside. This is a Secret Service event, not only a faith and politics discussion at Saddleback Church, both candidates with Secret Service protection and high security. David and Candy will be on the inside listening and they will join us post-game.

Thank you both so much for sharing your thoughts in advance. We look forward to seeing you on the other side.

When we come back, a closer look at the candidates' views -- how religion shapes each of their lives and their politics. Please stay with us.


KING: We're waiting, at the top of the hour, the forum out in Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The first time Barack Obama and John McCain will be together. That's coming up at the top of the hour. We want now to take a closer look, though, at the role religion and faith plays in each of these candidates' lives.

Barack Obama has been clear about his faith in this campaign, openly sharing his Christian beliefs, but his faith message hasn't always gotten through to those so-called "value voters" and his campaign is working hard to change that.

Here's CNN's Jessica Yellin.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barack Obama is working to avoid a problem that's tripped up Democrats before him -- a God problem.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know that faith and values can be a source of strength in our own lives. That's what it's been to me.

YELLIN: This year, somewhere between Pastor Jeremiah Wright's rantings and the false "Obama is a Muslim" whisper campaign, the candidate's faith message got drowned out.

Now, he's trying to bring it back with an aggressive new campaign: one part damage control, one part outreach.

OBAMA: The fact is leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups.

YELLIN: Obama ripped a page from the Bush playbook, a pledge to dramatically expand the president's partnerships with religious organizations, and at the same time under the radar -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Lord to be with us here tonight.

YELLIN: Obama's campaign is holding so-called "values parties," wooing undecided religious voters at small gathering like this one in Cincinnati.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My kids can look at him and think, you know, he's a -- it's good to be Catholic, it's good to be Christian, it's good to be open about what you are. And it doesn't...


YELLIN: The message -- Obama's Democratic Party welcomes believers, and Republicans don't have a monopoly on God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People love God in the blue states; they love God in the red states.

YELLIN: Joshua Dubois directs Obama's faith outreach.

JOSHUA DUBOIS, OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT: Too often, Democrats have ceded the language of faith and morality to other folks. And what we're here to say is that Senator Obama is a committed Christian, and he believes that people of all faiths and backgrounds have a role in public life.

YELLIN: Did you catch that? Obama is a committed Christian. Another big theme of these meetings, are reminders, like this video, that the candidate is no Muslim.

OBAMA: I've never been ashamed to talk about my Christian faith.

YELLIN: Winning over religious voters has been an uphill climb for Democrats. And Obama thinks he can break the mold.

JOHN GREEN, PEW SR. FELLOW, RELIGION & AMERICAN POLITICS: One of the areas in which Senator Obama might be able to get that extra margin of voters would be in some of these religious communities, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, that in the past have tended to vote more Republican.

YELLIN (on camera): Religious conservatives aren't going to make it easy. Obama's talk only goes so far, they say, and they're highlighting his pro-choice views in a new ad campaign.


TONY PERKINS, PRES., FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Senator, I have a question for you. If you as you say fatherhood begins at conception, when does life begin?


YELLIN: Faith voters might not get the answer they're looking for, but Obama is betting that some of them are ready for new questions and new answers.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.


KING: But what do religious voters think of Senator Obama and are his efforts to connect with religious leaders helping him in the campaign?

Joining me now is CNN political analyst, Roland Martin, and CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash returns, and the man you just saw in that television ad, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Tony, let me start with that very point. You're on television there. If fatherhood begins at conception, when does life begin? I assume in that ad, you're trying to make the point, it's great, senator, you're talking about faith but we're going to challenge you on some of the issues that are important to faith voters?

PERKINS: Absolutely, John. That, in part, was Barack Obama made a speech actually to a church on Father's Day, great speech, talking about the role of fathers. But you had to follow through, and that was the question we asked and it was more than a riddle. It really is zeroing in on where his faith leads him when it comes to the public policy issues, and abortion is a very important issue to social conservatives.

KING: Very important to social conservatives, Roland Martin, but in the Obama campaign, do they feel that if they can just convince voters that he's comfortable with his faith, he very much needs his faith and it informs his life -- and if you're very religious, maybe you do disagree with me on abortion, maybe you do disagree me with me on that issue but you can be comfortable with me -- is that their strategy?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, of course. And also, John, I'll use a word or phrase that Rick Warren focused. He said that being a person of faith is beyond the issue of abortion and homosexuality. Now, some people take issue with that, so there's no doubt the Obama campaign wants to be able to broaden this whole view of what is important to a person of faith. It goes beyond just those issues.

But also, John, it points to character. Matthew 25, this particular group came out with an ad that's airing today, talking about the character, being a family man, being a father, of Senator Barack Obama. Some people have been alluding to Senator John McCain and this whole issue of committing adultery in his first marriage.

How does it all apply to the character and the temperament of the person? You're going to see a whole lot of this discussion tonight. It would be very surprising to some people for McCain as well as Obama.

KING: And, Dana, without a doubt, Obama is -- to borrow a phrase -- a different kind of Democrat when it comes to this issue, especially if you're looking through the prism of the most recent campaigns. Bill Clinton was very comfortable in churches, but Al Gore and John Kerry often seemed a little out of place.

BASH: Exactly. And this is -- if nothing else -- this is about Barack Obama making clear to voters that he knows he needs in some of those rural areas in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, that, you know, as he says in the campaign trail, "I might not look like you. I might not have the same kind of name as you, but I am like you in that I'm a church- going guy who, " as Roland said, "is really into my family, into my faith, and it's a way of making a connection with voters who look at him as somebody who is other.

KING: And Tony Perkins, is it working? Do you get feedback from some of your members that, you know, you write, Tony, "I disagree with him on abortion but I like this guy"?

PERKINS: You know, I think people are listening to him. He's very charismatic. But I think, really, what gives Barack Obama the opening is the fact that John McCain does not talk about his faith, nor where he is on many of these core social issues.

Now, Roland is right -- the spectrum of issues that social conservatives, evangelicals, and Christians care about has broadened over the last 25 years. We live in a more complex society. But I would argue, when you talk to the vast majority of evangelicals, they still have a prioritization of these issues that leave the issue of life, marriage and family toward the top of that list.

MARTIN: John, I would say it all depends upon, again, who you're talking to in this present day. But it's very interesting when Dana mentioned Al Gore, he was a guy who is in seminary. So, for some reason, how do you ignore the reality of faith? I think what people are looking for, they're saying is -- George W. Bush was excellent at this and say, "This is how my faith informs me, how my focus is, what it means to me."

And, again, I think, you're seeing a generational shift in this country. When Tony talks about core social conservatives, I mean, yes, they may have those issues. Well, the generational shift is going on, and you see that happening all across the country.

KING: Let me call a quick time-out, let me call a quick time-out because I want to continue our discussion but you're both making a point that is critical. And let's take a closer look at it. You're both making the point that John McCain, at times, seems not as comfortable discussing his faith.

Well, our Dana Bash takes a closer look at that right now.


BASH (voice-over): Song and prayer at New Covenant Fellowship Church in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. These are the evangelical voters Republican presidential candidates rely on to win this swing state and others like it. Evangelical voters who say they don't know much about the role faith plays in the life of John McCain.

DOUG ENDERS, PENNSYLVANIA EVANGELICAL VOTER: Honestly, I haven't gotten a good feel for him. I have been, I mean, I've been to his Web site for a few times, I haven't got a good feel as to where he stands when it comes to other issues that aren't the ones that are maybe mainstream issues that Christians tend to look at.

BASH: It's one of the biggest ironies this year. The Democrats can't seem to stop talking about proverbs and piety. The presumptive Republican nominee, almost never does. McCain is raised as an Episcopalian now belongs to a Baptist Church but has not been baptized yet. On the rare occasion he does bring up religion, it's usually in his comfort zone, the military and its men.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Their duty and loyalty belong to their country. They find solace in their faith in God.

BASH: Quite a contrast to the current GOP president who famously said this when asked to name his famous philosopher. PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: Christ, because he changed my heart.

BASH: McCain says he is from a different generation, one more private about prayer.

MCCAIN: I am unashamed and unembarrassed about my deep faith in God. But I do not obviously try to impose my views on others.

BASH: But McCain isn't only quiet about his faith, he also rarely promotes the issues dear to evangelicals, like his opposition to abortion, and he has angered social conservatives by supporting policies they detest, like embryonic stem-cell research; and offended powerful leaders like James Dobson of Focus on the Family by refusing to reach out.

BASH (on camera): Why not, you know, pick up the phone and call him and try to make peace?

MCCAIN: Well, if Dr. Dobson wanted to speak to me, I'd be more than -- I'd be glad to speak to him.

BASH (voice-over): Back at the evangelical church, Pastor Brett Hartman disagrees with McCain on several issues, but says he's not bothered that McCain doesn't talk much about his faith.

PASTOR BRETT HARTMANN, NEW COVENANT FELLOWSHIP CHURCH: Sometimes, when people kind of use the platform of their faith, that it takes away a little bit from their integrity.

BASH: Whether he is uncertain conservative flock agrees with that gospel could determine McCain's political faith.


KING: We're going to show you a live picture of the Saddleback Church, out in Lake Forest, California. We're waiting, of course, for the first joint appearance of Barack Obama and John McCain. They won't take questions together but they will be on stage briefly together, it's a little more than 30 minutes before that big event.

As we wait, let's bring back our political panel.

CNN's political analyst, Roland Martin; CNN congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who's piece you just there; and, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Dana, I want to follow-up quickly on a point in your piece. McCain says it's generational issue, he doesn't like to wear his faith on his sleeve. Do they understand as we get closer to the general election, especially because they are surprisingly close in this election, that they need those voters and maybe he needs to do a better job?

BASH: Yes. And they also are saying that this is in part what this entire evening and being with Rick Warren and having an hour where he is discussing issues that -- around his faith is all about. It's interesting. He doesn't bring it up, but when he is asked about it and he is asked about it from time to time at town halls around country as he's meeting with voters, he does talk about his faith, he does talk about issues that are important to evangelicals, the traditional issues like abortion.

And he is more and more, this past week, for example, John, he gave an interview where he talked about his experience as a prisoner of war and talked about the fact that not just that he was elected chaplain there, which is something we don't hear very much, but that he was one of the people who was part of a riot in order to have a church service while he was a prisoner of war.

Again, you would think that would be a no-brainer to talk about constantly, but he's just starting to talk about that in interviews. And I would expect we hear more about that as they realize that this is a core constituency they need to get to the polls.

KING: Tony Perkins, I know you have dodged him in Florida, and you tell me the right word to get him to talk more openly about it. Dr. Dobson has said that he might even come around and may be even endorse John McCain -- but if that is the mood in the evangelical, the social conservative, Christian conservative community that we have to be with him because he's the lesser of two evils, can John McCain win or does he need a more proactive, "Yes, we want this guy"?

PERKINS: Well, John, I think, when you look at the last two presidential elections and how narrowly they were decided, you need more than just tacit support, you need enthusiastic support. And it goes beyond just John McCain talking about his faith as that the pastor talked about in Dana's package it's where the issues leave him to or where his faith leads him to in the issues.

And that's where he really has a difficulty I think with social conservative voters, is they, not only they don't know his faith, which is OK, because Ronald Reagan didn't talk much about his faith. There is a generation issue there. Obviously George W. Bush has raised the bar. But more importantly, they want to know if he is with them on the issues. That's why I think a vice presidential pick is so important for him. That can do the talking for him on those issues.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, John, I think it goes beyond social conservatives for John McCain. Because what you also see, there's a huge number of people, John, sitting right there in the middle. Look, I am an evangelical. I am the husband of a minister. I don't identify with the religious right. I don't identify with the religious left. It depends upon the particular issue. So John McCain also has to speak to folks like me who look at there is issues in people and say what do you believe in, what drives you. And so, he needs to be able to expound on that. He needs to be able to touch upon that because again, the people in the middle, the folks not on the far edges, they also matter in a very close election.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Our panel will stay with us. Roland Martin, Tony Perkins, Dana Bash will be with us throughout the night. Not only in the 20-something minutes we are waiting. You're looking at Saddleback Church on the right of you screen there. It's a live event coming at the top of the hour. The first time Barack Obama and John McCain share a stage since they have become the parties' choices for president of the United States. Coming up, when we return, what the candidates need to do tonight. Just what they need to say. Plus, we take you live to a rally of thousands of young evangelicals, excuse me, right here in Washington.


KING: Live picture there. You are looking at Saddleback Church out in Lake Forest, California. That's in south central California near Irvine. If you're not familiar with Lake Forest. That is the scene of tonight's big event coming up in about 25 minutes. John McCain and Barack Obama fielding questions about faith, the role of faith in politics and also any of the many other issues as they appear together for the first time since clinching their parties' presidential nominations. While senators McCain and Obama take part in tonight's forum, thousands of evangelicals will be wrapping up a major rally right here in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall. CNN's Kate Bolduan is there among the festivities. Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDETN: Hey there, John. Well, organizers here estimate about 50,000 people have turned out here to the National Mall. This is an annual gathering of evangelicals. You can see how many turned out today. They're talking about the big issues, talking about their faith, talking about core evangelical issues and values. Abortion and same-sex marriage are at the top of list. And these are also key issues when it comes to who these people choose to support for president.

Well, organizers today's event is more of a cymbal than politics. Politics has been a topic they've been talking about among people here in the crowd as well as up on stage. In terms of people that we've talked to, they really say simply - they say they haven't heard enough from either candidate on these faith issues. Listen here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will vote, and I'm waiting to hear. I'm not a registered anything. The abortion issue is probably the number one if not - I mean, it's high up on my list. It's high because I believe that speaks to character. I believe someone that's willing to stand up for life, period. There's a character definition in that. And a man of character, a woman of character, is what I believe we should have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're too worried about change were we need to just deal with the issues that we already have. And one is abortion.


BOLDUAN: You heard it right there. You get a sense here that the candidates' stands on abortion really seems to be a deal-breaker among people here. There's also a sense from the people we talked to here that many evangelicals traditionally a very strong voting block for the republican party, that they really right now they say, at least the people we talked to, they're dissatisfied from what they're hearing from the campaign trail so far. John.

KING: Kate Bolduan for us down on the National Mall. Thank you, Kate. A little difficult to hear Kate because of the size of the festivities there. We thank her for that report underscoring the importance of the evangelical vote in the upcoming election. So let's pose the question, just how important is this evangelical vote for senators McCain and Obama and how are these two candidates doing so far? Let's bring back our CNN political analyst Bill Schneider. He's with the "Election Express" in Hayes, Kansas, if I have that right.

Bill, break down the numbers for us. We talked a little bit about it at the top of the show. McCain can't rely on these voters as much as Bush could then. What does he do from here on out?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's trying to reach for the center more than President Bush did. President Bush really with Karl Rove himself tried to rally and mobilize these voters to come out in large numbers. How do you do that? By emphasizing us versus them? Divisive issues. McCain simply isn't doing that. Values issues, religion is playing a far less prominent role in this campaign than in recent campaigns.

Other issues are far more important to most voters. I would say also to many evangelical voters. The economy number one by far and foreign policy, of course. The candidates are less polarized. Barack Obama has made an effort to reach out towards religious voters more than most democrats in the past have done, and McCain is making less of an effort to rally religious voters than George W. Bush did.

And finally, maybe evangelical voters are changing. Younger evangelicals are less conservative in their views, and Rick Warren himself has said while his values have not changed on religious issues, his agenda has expanded. We may find that that's true of a number of evangelical voters. John.

KING: Well, let's follow-up on the latter point, Bill, among the - about the younger evangelical voters. You say their issues portfolio may have changed some. They are in some cases less conservative. McCain says that's why he's out there talking about climate change, but war and peace and the war in Iraq is also an important issues to many of these younger religious and evangelical voters, or is it not?

SCHNEIDER: It is certainly an important issue to them, as, of course, is the economy. They know that they are deeply religious, of course, but they know that an awful lot of the bible takes up the issue of poverty and homelessness and protection of the earth and war and peace. Those are very prominent themes in the bible and in Christ's teachings. And these younger evangelicals take those issues very, very seriously, as well as issues like abortion and evolution and homosexuality.

KING: Bill Schneider with the CNN "Election Express" in Hayes, Kansas making his way to Denver, site of the Democratic National Convention and coming up too. But on this big night in presidential politics, Barack Obama and John McCain at the same event for the first time. And it's right there. The Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. About 20 minutes from now that event will get under way. We will bring you live coverage but much more of our pre-coverage coming up. We'll also be with you for extended post coverage after this special two-hour event. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


KING: This is a live picture of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, the sight of a major event tonight in presidential politics. A little more than 15 minutes away, the first time we will see Barack Obama and John McCain on the same stage since they clinched their parties' nomination for president. They will not be debating together or even taking questions together but they will take the same set of questions out at Saddleback Church. And the man driving those questions, the interviewer tonight will be Pastor Rick Warren. He says he's a shepherd, not a pundit, but he knows he has to get political with Obama and McCain.


WARREN: Well, obviously, I'm pro-life, but I'm more than pro-life. I am what I call whole life. I don't just care about that little girl who is unborn. I care about her once she's born. I care about whether she gets an education, whether she lives in poverty, whether she's a crack baby, whether she has AIDS or not. So I have extended my personal agenda from simply pro-life. I call myself whole life, but there are a lot of people that disagree with me and the issue that we have to deal with is, how do you disagree without demonizing the opposition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think either one of these candidate are whole life? Do you see either one of these candidates having kind of this whole life agenda that you talk about?

WARREN: We'll sure find out.


KING: we'll sure find out. A little more than 15 minutes from now, Pastor Rick Warren will start the questioning. Tonight's forum spotlights an opportunity for evangelicals, evangelicals of all ages to define their role in this critical election. We want to welcome back our panel, CNN's Roland Martin, CNN's congressional correspondent Dana Bash who's been out covering this campaign and Tony Perkins president of the Family Research Council.

Tony, I want to begin with you. When you hear Rick Warren say I'm whole life, as you know the term pro-life has been a huge definitional and policy battle for the Christian rights, some call it the religious right, social conservative voters, call it what you will, the pro- family movement. Do you wary when a pastor with this sway Rick Warren has says things like that? Is he muddling the message?

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL, PRESIDENT: I don't think so. I'm actually encouraged that a church, a pastor is hosting this time of a forum. 25 years ago this would not have happened. It is happening because Christians have become more involved in the civic arena. I think we could talk about definitional, I would say his definition of what he called "whole life" is where most evangelicals are. Last week I was with my oldest daughter on a missions trip to Honduras to a community that was ravaged by AIDS. And a lot of young people with us. They are working hands-on to help people. But also, they're very committed to the life issue.

Earlier today I spoke out there at a rally on the mall where most of those people there are young people who came from across the nation here to Washington, D.C. to make a statement primarily on the life issue. So, yes, they're pro-life. Yes, they're whole life. I think that's descriptive of the evangelical community as a whole, but it does not mean that the life issue somehow is equal to global warming or something else.

MARTIN: Come on, Tony. You know, the reality is this here. When you talk about the whole issue of being pro-life, also the question is do you still have these evangelicals leaders, are they dealing with prenatal care? Are they confronting the reality?

PERKINS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Tony -

PERKINS: Most crisis pregnancy centers and single mother homes have been put together by Christian evangelicals and pro-lifers and Catholics.

MARTIN: But Tony, I have seen. Tony, I have personally heard the stories of - I've heard certain evangelicals who are pro-life calling on black pastors to march with them when it came to pro-life issues. I've heard those same black pastors they march with me and deal with crack houses, some folks. And you know what, that's not really our issue. I think what Rick Warren is saying this is a different battle that e must confront issues beyond the normal issues. And I think this is a direct challenge, Tony, to leaders like you to go beyond the traditional issues. And that's what Rick Warren is saying. He's not just speaking to the people, he's speaking to the leadership as well.

KING: Well, let me jump in for a second.

PERKINS: We've been there. Where have you been?

MARTIN: Well, Tony. I've been there on the grassroots, on the front line where many of you guys have been solely focused on two things.

PERKINS: You're absolutely wrong, Roland.

MARTIN: Oh, no, I'm not.

KING: Gentlemen, I'm going to play time-out here for one second. But as you make a key debate, I want to quickly, before we get into break, I want to go to Dana Bash.

On this point that they're debating about, Dana, isn't it a fact of life for both of these campaigns that this is very complicated? There are places, say, the Philadelphia suburbs where some of those voters want a pro-choice or pro-abortion rights candidate for president, and yet, John McCain may suffer in the suburbs as George W. Bush did and yet there are places in America that Barack Obama would very much like to pick up, say the state of Virginia. In those white rural areas along the North Carolina and Kentucky border, guess what, the anti- abortion sentiment carries the day. So, it's pretty complication. You have to go state by state.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very complicated and you do have to go state by state. But I think what's going to be interesting about what we see tonight is that what Rick Warren is talking about and what he has said in many interviews leading up to tonight he's going to pursue is his kind of different approach to evangelical issues.

KING: That's right.

BASH: The kinds of issues that he talks about all the time are global poverty, HIV, you know, awareness, and things like that. And even issues like climate change. Those are the issues that I know Tony Perkins was saying that those are issues that are important perhaps not as important as other social issues, but core evangelicals those are issues from the perspective of John McCain, for example, that he has a point to relate to with a lot of these evangelicals who might be skeptical of him on other issues, whether it's founded or not, because he's a republican who is different from others in that he talks about the issue of climate change more than other republicans and other issues that perhaps he can make a connection to these young evangelicals on whether it's in some of the states you're talking about, in the suburbs of Philadelphia or in some of the more rural areas around the country.

KING: More to come in our discussion as we await now, just a little more than 10 minutes away this fascinating forum out in the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Barack Obama and John McCain sharing a stage for the first time. When we come back, a discussion of an issue in this campaign that has quite a bit to do with faith, not Barack Obama's faith but the perception, the belief of many Americans that he's a Muslim and not a Christian. More when we continue.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially, with e-mail suggesting I was a Muslim, later, with, you know, the controversy that Trinity generated, you know, and the interesting aspect of this is that, as some of you know, you know, I've been somebody who really has insisted that the democratic party reach out to people of faith, and to take issues of faith more seriously, and have written and spoken about this in fairly extensive terms.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: That's Senator Obama discussing this controversy back in May, about how some Americans believe he's a Muslim. Back to our panel, Roland Martin, Dana Bash and Tony Perkins.

Dana, I will start with you on the politics. The Pew Research Center poll recently, I believe, it was 12 percent of Americans, 12 percent, not an insignificant number believe even after all of this that Barack Obama is a Muslim. How does his campaign deal with that?

BASH: Like what we'll see in a few minutes, this is I think the perfect opportunity with the key audience they need to convince that he isn't a Muslim, that he is a Christian, and that is one of the reasons why he is so open about his religious Christian faith. So that's a big reason why he's going to do this tonight. To be politically crass about it, on the other side, you'll see John McCain, he says over and over that he opposes any kind of political attempt to promote that false assertion that Barack Obama is a Muslim, but if that number, if that percentage continues, it could help John McCain big time in November.

KING: Tony Perkins, why do you think that that number is still so high?

PERKINS: Well, I think, obviously his name is a struggle for him. His family background and you know, a lot of people do get their information off the internet and they're very, you know, I guess they're just cynical. And even though they may deny it, their candidate may deny it, his campaign may deny it. They still believe there may be some roots to it there in his family history.

KING: Roland, do you think they could do better to debunk this?

MARTIN: John, the people sitting here still believing it. They are not cynical, they're idiots. They can't listen. And also what needs to happen, John, look this is not the kingdom of republican party, the kingdom of democrats. When you profess with your mouth to Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, you are part of the kingdom. And so, I would think that Christians would say you defend a fellow Christian and you don't spread this falsehood as well. That is a reality. And anyone calling me other than what I actually am, that's what needs to happen. Well, these are absolute lies and people need to confront it. I'm not going to call anybody something if they are not.

KING: If you've been paying close attention, you can see that our panel is not shy. When we come back, their final thoughts. What are the challenges? What are the candidates need to do tonight before this remarkable event that will take place in a little bit more than five minutes. Barack Obama and John McCain at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. The event coming up, our panel's final thoughts. Please stay with us.


KING: Quick final now thought from our panelists. We have Dana Bash, Tony Perkins and Roland Martin. Dana, you first. BASH: I think what's going to be fascinating about tonight is you know, we've been covering these candidates and look at a lot of the issues, where they stand on taxes and the environment, things like that. What we're going to see tonight is these candidates talking about where they come from, what drives them, what their moral compasses and obviously what their faith is. So it's going to be a different side of these candidates, and aside that voters say they care about, almost as much if not, you know, just as much as where the candidates stand on the issues.

KING: Roland Martin, can you hear me?

MARTIN: Yes, John, I can hear you.

KING: I just lost Roland.


KING: Tony Perkins, the floor is yours.

PERKINS: I think it's a big night for Rick Warren.

MARTIN: I'm here.

PERKINS: I think it's a night that Barack Obama can gain some territory with evangelicals and it's a night that John McCain has to shore up his support among evangelicals and among Christians, talking and connecting with him, not only on his faith but on the issues where that faith leads to. It's going to be interesting to watch. I think Barack Obama has the most to gain here.

KING: And Roland, do we have Roland back or have we lost Roland?

MARTIN: Can you hear me, John?

KING: I think we've lost Roland. So, I'll keep. There you are, go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: Yes, John. I think first and foremost, John McCain, look some candidates hate to raise money, but you have to do it to win. He may not want to talk about his faith but he has to to appeal to voters. Senator Barack Obama his focus tonight, should be family, kids, character, talk about how your faith informs that, drive that point home. Those are most critical points that both of them have to make. Both of them could win. Both of them could lose tonight but again they must speak to the people who they're trying to reach because there are too many questions right now.

KING: It is a fascinating moment in the campaign. And we're just seconds away from it. Again, this will be the first time we see Barack Obama and John McCain on the stage at the same time. Let's set the moment for you. It's 80 days before the presidential election. A remarkably competitive presidential election and so many big decisions just ahead for these candidates. So they will be together on the same stage tonight. They also are within days of picking their vice presidential running mates. Barack Obama's convention in Denver begins just a little more than a week from now, followed closely by John McCain's republican convention out in Minneapolis-St. Paul. We have been waiting for this. Three presidential debates to come, and all that but this is a big moment tonight. Barack Obama and John McCain sharing a stage out at Saddleback Church in Southern California, taking questions.