I happened to watch live the back to back one on one sessions of the two Presidential candidates with Rev Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church, CA. Senator Obama took questions for an hour followed by Senator McCain. The format was interesting in a number of ways. Firstly, the questions were quite different from those asked by conventional TV channels. There were hardly any follow on questions (which has its positives and negatives). On the flip side, the person who goes second has a huge advantage (as was suspiciously evident in Senator McCain’s urgency to respond to questions, though one can probably give him the benefit of the doubt). Besides, the setting was an evangelical Church and understandably the crowd was mostly pro-McCain (as confirmed by the frequency of the applause for him when compared to those for Obama).
This event clearly showed the contrast between the two candidates. Senator Obama’s responses were thoughtful, nuanced and often long-winded. McCain on the other hand was mostly “cut and dry” in his responses. Overall the night belonged to Senator McCain. He seemed better prepared (perhaps because he went in second). He faced and spoke directly to the audience and intermittently addressed Rev. Warren. He came across as self-assured and confident. His short and crisp answers interspersed with anecdotes really helped him connect with the casual viewer.
Senator Obama on the other hand almost never looked at the audience. Unfortunately, he rarely looked at Rev Warren either except when listening to the question! The format didn’t quite suit his style. He simply didn’t look in control or portray the authority and self-confidence expected of a Presidential candidate. In this day and age where elections are mostly won on TV and public opinion is shaped largely by TV pundits and bloggers, Obama put up a relatively weaker show. Even on the humor front, Senator Obama was outshone by his opponent.
Some of Senator Obama’s responses, like for instance, his response to the question of Evil were intelligent and thoughtful in comparison to Senator McCain (who was all George Bush on this one). On the other hand, Senator Obama was needlessly long winded (and seemingly evasive) on topics such as abortion. If Senator McCain can perform similarly in the upcoming debates, he could be a tougher opponent than the Obama team ever imagined.
Check out Rev Warren’s post-event interview