Monday, August 18, 2008

Who Won the Saddleback Debate?

It wasn't really a debate, but there certainly was a contrast in the presentations of the two major party candidates for President of the United States. The venue was the Saddleback Church, famous for its rapid growth and out spoken Pastor, Rick Warren. The contenders were John McCain and Barack Obama and the differences in style and substance was surprising.

The format was simple. A table, two chairs, and two hours. The first hour was Obama and Rick Warren and the second was John McCain and the Pastor. McCain wasn't suppose to be listening to the first hour or there would be accusations of cheating. It appears the Senator from Arizona was on the road when the Obama discussion began and there is a chance (as reported famously by NBC) that McCain heard much of what Obama said on the radio. Obama's people have cried "foul" and have stated that it is the "only way" McCain could have performed so well. There are more reasons for that than cheating and here are just a few of them:

* Obama was incredibly stiff and nervous. Obama looked like a person who didn't feel like he belonged there and that was obvious to the audience both there and on TV.

* Obama spoke too much and said too little. When he didn't have a good answer, he would simply talk more. Usually Obama is a pleasure to listen to, that wasn't the case during this program.

* Philosophically, Obama was completely out of the water. He did a fairly good job of making positions on issues that Evangelicals typically do not share, palpable. But his answers required a lot more work than those of McCain. It was a hard sales job.

* McCain told powerful and poignant stories. When he talked about his experience as a POW in the Vietnam War and the sacrifices he made, you could hear a pin drop. Furthermore, there was an obvious level of sincerity in his story about the role of God in his life that you didn't see in Obama. I'm not saying that Obama lacked sincerity, I am saying that McCain was much better at conveying such.

* McCain has one of the strongest records in the US Senate on Pro-Life issues. As a result, he could tell the audience "like it is" without flinching. Furthermore, Rick Warren and many of his constituencies are big fans of the Global Warming rhetoric so pervasive today. I'm not buying it, but McCain does and Obama had little to nothing over McCain on that subject. McCain has been a spokes person on behalf of the environmentalism for quite some time.

* There is no question that Obama is a better public speaker in general. He is very articulate and persuasive when giving a speech. In many respects, McCain is equally capable in the off the cuff setting that was used in this forum. McCain loves to speak candidly (which made him a media darling until Obama came along) and he demonstrated it on this program.

The bottom line, McCain won this discussion because he is much more the person for that audience. It was simply a better place for him than Obama. There has been a huge concern whether Evangelicals could get excited about McCain. The Arizona Senator placated many of those concerns during this Saddleback event.

Kevin Price's articles are found daily in national publications such as USA Today, Chicago Sun Times, and Reuters. Subscribe to his newsletter here.

Kevin Price is Host of the Houston Business Show (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review.

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