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Sticking with McCain

12:05 PM, Aug 17, 2008 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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Saddleback Church
Lake Forest, Calif.

In the "message" room afterwards ("message" being a churchly word for spin), Gary Bauer, for McCain, having described the candidate's performance as "a grand slam home run," told me that "all this talk that Barack would peel off a significant portion of [the evangelical] vote--there's not a chance of that after today." "All this talk," of course, was a reference to the Obama strategy of appealing to (well, peeling off) evangelicals who are less conservative than, say, James Dobson, or tired of Bush, or both.

Shaun Casey, the evangelical outreach man for Obama, and a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., didn't speak of home runs or their equivalents. Instead he focused on the young people he saw in the audience who warmed (and there were some) to Obama.

"I teach 23 year-olds," he said. "My hunch here is that the older demographic was for McCain, but the younger [one] was more excited about Obama. And that tracks with what I've seen elsewhere." Young evangelicals, it's fair to say, are high on the list of evangelicals the Obama campaign thinks are most peel-able. Casey thinks a lot of them are disappointed with Republicans and are now taking a look at Obama. Why? In part because they've failed to deliver on their "pro-life rhetoric." "Nothing," Casey said, "gets done . . . in terms of reducing abortion."

Obama wants to create conditions in which pregnant women will be less likely to choose abortion. Yet, as Obama's answers here showed, he remains definitely committed to the abortion right as announced by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. McCain, by the way, emphasized here that he would be a "pro-life president" and advance "pro-life policies." I suspect that abortion will acquire more importance in this race, especially as the one campaign fights to peel off evangelical voters--and the other to keep them.