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Starting Gate: Saddleback To The Future

While it took place on a Saturday night in August buried in the hype and coverage of the Olympics, the joint candidate appearance with Rick Warren at his Saddleback Church may very well end up being one of the more important moments of this campaign season.

Two days later, questions about whether John McCain was truly in the "cone of silence" Warren said he would be (so as not to hear the questions asked of both candidates) reflects the general sentiment that the presumptive Republican nominee performed well in front of an audience he needs for the fall. The reaction from conservatives has been almost universally positive for McCain, from the standpoints of both substance and overall performance. There's a growing sense on the right that perhaps this race is winnable after all.

Outside of the immediate reactions though, the forum appears to have provided some moments that could continue to be talked about and resonate throughout the rest of the campaign. For close watchers of the campaign throughout the last year, there was a recitation of familiar themes and even disclosures. Obama discussed his youthful experimentation with drugs, McCain talked about his experiences as a POW. Both found ways to emphasize their main campaign themes while appealing to voters for whom faith is a prime motivator.

Voters casually tuning into the campaign may have heard some of these stories for the first time but even those hyper-attuned to the campaign heard some new – and potentially damaging things from both candidates. McCain, for instance, raised the issue of his failed first marriage when asked about his moral failings – an episode in his life that has received little mainstream attention but continues to bubble under the surface in some quarters. Obama's contention that a determination of when human life/rights begin is above his pay grade is raising some eyebrows. And McCain's definition of "rich" as someone making $5 million a year is almost certain to show up in future ads even though he immediately said he was exaggerating.

Major flubs they weren't but these are the sorts of slice-and-dice statements that become easy fodder for critics on all sides. It's a big reason why campaigns shy away from doing more such forums or events that risk getting off-script. That's too bad because the candidates on display at Saddleback were largely candid and revealing, making it a fascinating program for journalists and voters but also one fraught with danger for control-oriented campaign professionals.

Around The Track

  • Obama ratcheted up the tough talk at a San Francisco fundraiser last night, reports CBS News' Maria Gavrilovic. Talking about what he thinks should be the attitude of voters this fall, Obama said, "toss the bums out, we're starting from scratch, we're starting over. This is not working." He continued, "just read the papers. These are the knuckleheads who have been in charge. Throw 'em out."
  • Joe Biden's trip to Georgia has his vice presidential stock rising as the New York Times examines the Delaware senator today.
  • A bevy of potential VP nominees in both parties walked a fine line on the Sunday shows between demonstrating their loyalty to the nominees while trying not to appear over-eager, the Wall Street Journal notes.
  • Obama raised $7.8 million in San Francisco last night, the AP reports. In July, the Democrat out-raised McCain $51 million to $27 million but after the conventions, Obama will continue to have to raise money since he is opting out of the public financing system.