The sun hasn't quite set here in Southern California, and while folks are slowly heading home from their Saturday evening at Saddleback Church's "Civic Forum on the Presidency," a great number seem to want to stand around and talk.
There's no problem starting up a conversation. For one thing, something like 500 media people have their mikes, cameras, and notepads all at the ready to get a few reactions. What did they all think?
They thought their pastor, Rick Warren, did a bang-up job-and they had reason to be proud. He showed me he's at least as good at interviews as he is at selling books. In the process, he put to shame a lot of news professionals with his direct, blunt questioning. And he was fair. Either way the election goes, here's one evangelical who ought to have a standing invitation at the White House. I heard a few diehards carping that Warren wasn't relentless with his follow-ups-especially with Obama. But he had said in advance he was going to limit himself to the same set of questions for both candidates. (There was nothing softballish in Warren's asking each candidate to identify at least one current Supreme Court justice he wouldn't have appointed. To their credit, both men took on the challenge with specifics instead of avoiding the assignment.)
Whatever Warren intended, his interview approach did what a good interview should do: It uncovered the reality of both men. While even the clock confirmed how regularly Obama rests on the fluent multiplicity of his words, McCain-who isn't supposed to be deft about such things-deftly used one-word answers over and over again to show that you can be both eloquently simple and admirably firm on a lot of the big issues.
All three men were very, very good. I predict it will be ultimately demonstrated, though, that Warren, one way or another, will prove himself the big winner of the evening, with McCain not very far behind.