Abortion would seem to be the greatest obstacle to Obama in gaining headway among the values voters, despite his demonstrated ease in talking about role of faith in his life and political convictions. But Saddleback could give Obama the chance to elaborate on his long-held commitment to encouraging alternatives to abortion and indeed to seeing abortion as a moral issue.
While he is certain to stand by the Democratic platform on preserving legal and accessible abortions, he can now point to a newly proposed plank that outlines policy supports for women who decide to go to term. Already, Catholic and evangelical activists are praising that plank. "I think this is driving toward a more effective and practical way of addressing the root causes of abortion, not just Roe v. Wade," says Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, a nonpartisan online advocacy group supporting social justice policies.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., and a registered Republican, also praises the Democratic Party's new direction and adds that he would like to see McCain and the G.O.P. make a similar move beyond ideological stands against abortion toward practical measures that would help reduce the demand for it. "Let's go from the ideological to the practical," Hunter says. And it is very possible that McCain will use Saddleback to show that he and his party are hearing that message.
The topic of civility in politics is also likely to figure into an event that is formally billed as the "Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion." Here, Obama would seem to enjoy an advantage over McCain, whose campaign tactics of the last few weeks have veered toward negative character attacks, including the Paris Hilton celebrity comparisons.
For his part, McCain might take the occasion to argue that pointing out inexperience in an opponent, even through dramatic comparisons, is within the parameters of civil debate. But Obama is on at least as firm ground to argue that the metaphorical overkill in McCain's ads is precisely how civility is breached.
At the very least, it will make for an interesting question, possibly one of many in what could prove to be the most important nondebate of this presidential campaign.