(LAKE FOREST, CA.) - There was one rule evangelical pastor Rick Warren wanted to make clear about his questions to both candidates during his forum on Saturday night, and he said it more than once.
"Don't give me your stump speech on these."
"Now, I don't want to hear your stump speech."
Barack Obama rarely had the opportunity to delve into his stump speech, perhaps because Warren tended to change the subject as it seemed Obama was making that turn towards his stump.
But John McCain, who has been deemed a "maverick" for years, played the part well and seemed not to play by Warren's guideline. Instead, he took the opportunity during the discussion, carried live by cable news networks, to stick hard to the message he's been driving across the country since running for president.
Almost none of the lines or stories were new, but McCain jumped from sharp, brief answers to weaving through his tried-and-true anecdotes, many of which his audience, and Warren, seemed to have never heard before.
He told Warren that we should divert money spent overseas to domestic growth in alternative energies, saying, "We're sending $700 billion dollars a year to countries that don't like us very much, that some of that money is ended up in the hands of terrorists organizations."
That's one McCain has brought up a few times this month.
"Yet another reminder -- another reminder that it's time we got serious about our energy crisis and stop sending $700 billion a year overseas to countries that don't like us very much." (August 12, FOX News)
"We ought not to be sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much and some of the money ends up in the hands of known terrorist organizations. That's published fact." (August 11, Erie, Pa.)
"We also need to develop more existing energies like safe nuclear power and clean coal. And we need to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much." (August 6, Lima, Ohio)
He was forced to stray from his stump, however, when asked which current Supreme Court justices he would not have nominated. McCain responded by naming all of those identified as being left-leaning – Souter, Ginsburg, Stephens, Breyer. Though he likes the ones said to be conservative leaning just fine.
But he circled back to tried-and-true comments from the trail when he said, "This nomination should be based on the criteria of proven record of strictly adhering to the Constitution of the United States of America and not legislating from the bench. And by the way, Justices Alito and Roberts are two of my most recent favorites, by the way."
On Wednesday in York, Pa., McCain said something similar: "I want to look you in the eye and assure you that I have supported Justice Alito and Justice Roberts. I will nominate only judges who have a clear record of strict adherence to the Constitution of the United States and do not believe in legislating from the bench."
Asked if he supported federal money for faith-based organizations, McCain said the following:
"I went to New Orleans after (Hurricane) Katrina, the Resurrection Baptist Church was doing tremendous work with thousands of volunteers, I'm sure probably from here at Saddleback, coordinating the efforts of thousands of volunteers, including my own church, the North Phoenix Baptist Church, who came from all over America. And various authorities off the record told me off the record that they were doing so much more good than the government organizations."
On July 13, the New York Times published these similar comments from McCain: "I support faith-based organizations and I support a lot of the things that the president did. I was in New Orleans after Katrina and I went to their Resurrection Baptist Church and I saw volunteers from all over America working and helping in the clean-up, and the work that they did and talking with people like Governor Jindal, he said they did great work. I would continue along the model of what the president has done."
McCain said he changed his mind in the last tem years about off-shore drilling, and he wants it right now. Not only that, but...
"We have to have nuclear power in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save on our energy costs. By the way, in case you hadn't noticed it, the French 80 percent, we love to imitate the French, but 80 percent of their electricity is generated by nuclear power...and by the way if you hadn't noticed we now have a pro-American president of France, which proves if you live long enough, anything can happen in America."
On July 31, in Racine, Wisc? "I can tell you that the French -- we always want to imitate the French, right? Eighty percent of their electricity is generated by nuclear power. And in case you missed it, we now have a pro-American president of France, which shows that if you live long enough, anything can happen in the world and America."
Asked what the most gut-wrenching decision he ever had to make was...
"It was long ago and far away in a prison camp in North Vietnam. My father was a high ranking admiral. The Vietnamese came and said that i could leave prison early. And we had a code of conduct that said you only leave by order of capture. I also had a dear and beloved friend who was from California by the name Ed Alvarez who had been shot down and captured a couple years before me but i wasn't in good physical shape. In fact I was in rather bad physical shape. So I said no. Now, in it of full disclosure, I'm very happy I didn't know the war was going to last for another three years or so. But I said no and I'll never forget sitting in my last answer and the high ranking officer who offered it slammed the door and the interrogator said go back to your cell it's going to be very tough on you now. And it was. But not only the toughest decision i ever made but I'm most happy about that decision than any decision I've ever made in my life."
And on July 13 in San Diego: "When I was in prison in Vietnam, I like other of my fellow POWs, was offered early release by my captors. Most of us refused because we were bound to our code of conduct, which said those who had been captured the earliest had to be released the soonest. My friend, Everett Alvarez, a brave American of Mexican descent, had been shot down years before I was, and had suffered for his country much more and much longer than I had. To leave him behind would have shamed us."
Asked to name an instance when he went against his own party, he joked, "You know by a strange coincidence I was not elected Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate this year."
That's one line he hasn't only used in this election. He was using it back when he ran and lost the Republican nomination against George W. Bush.
"It's fair to say that I did not win Miss Congeniality in the U.S. Senate this year. I have to admit that to you." (February 15, 2000, New York)
He even closed his campaign's most recent motto, "Country First," which welcomes visitors to his website and has appeared on banners and podiums more and more in recent weeks, when Pastor Rick asked why he wanted to be president.
"I go to places where I know they probably won't vote for me. I know that my job is to tell them that I'll be the president of every American and I'll always put my country first."
On message and welcomed by the audience, McCain had the crowd hearing him again for the first time.