The jury has returned and has proclaimed that John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress must use bipartisan oversight as the gold standard The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward Trump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote MORE is back in the saddle after having whooped Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge denies bid to move lawsuit over Trump national monument rollbacks to Utah Tomi Lahren to former first lady: 'Sit down, Michelle' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins MORE on Saturday night at Rick Warren's Saddleback church forum in Lake Forest, Calif.

Putting aside the "cone of silence" controversy, which raises the possibility McCain got to hear the questions and prepare his answers when Obama went first, I concur with part of the reviews, that McCain was at his best. Indeed, he was passionate, personal and surprisingly comfortable — nearly unrecognizable from the ever-tense and panicked-looking fellow we have come to expect in debate settings.

Of course, there are few stories as compelling and moving as McCain's decision not to take early leave from a prison camp in Vietnam. Finally, he was able to reassure his base: Despite the trial balloons about a pro-choice vice president like Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, McCain plans a pro-life administration and there is no equivocating on the abortion issue or the courts. He also must have thrilled Christian conservatives as well when he was willing to offer up that his greatest moral failing is the failure of his first marriage.

But I disagree with the commentariat's conclusion that Obama lost this round because he was nuanced and cerebral. Let's consider the most important fact about this session, that there are now evangelicals wavering in their support of the GOP and willing to consider a vote for the Democrat in this election. For Obama, the goal of this appearance was to introduce himself to these persuadable evangelicals. These voters are broadening their issue priorities to include poverty, AIDS, climate change, homelessness and more. Abortion and judges isn't the bread and butter of evangelical voters willing to switch parties in 2008, and in fact many of them want an end to the war in Iraq.

So Obama wasn't going to change the minds of an entire mega-church full of people who disagree with him on abortion. He was there to present himself as a humble Christian — not a Muslim, as they may have read on the Internet — whose strong faith lead him to place the common good above his personal enrichment. He was applauded for his answers on taxes, faith-based institutions, his opposition to gay marriage, his answer on why he wants to be president, American's obligation to lead by example in the world and his compliment of President Bush' PEPFAR program for AIDS relief.

McCain received far more applause, which stands to reason since stem cells is pretty much the only issue on which he and the crowd don't agree. He spoke much of war, and ardently about radical Islamic extremism and the threat it poses, in his answer about the need to "defeat" evil. Obama, acknowledging that evil is a part of life that cannot be eradicated, sees it everywhere — not only across the ocean but often down the street. Not only is he right — that evil takes many forms, including when it results from good intentions — but do truly religious voters believe that humans are capable of defeating evil?

While McCain may have hit it out the park with the evangelicals his party has long relied upon for victory, Obama hardly failed in his appearance before what for him is the tough crowd. For those evangelicals daring to vote differently this time, Obama did what he had to with them — no harm.


WHERE DOES OBAMA STAND NOW? THE POLLS, THE CLINTONS, THE RUSSIAN/GEORGIAN CONFLICT? Send your questions and comments to me at askab@thehill.com. The video returns next week after the Democratic convention. Thank you.