McCain, Obama to face off with popular pastor
The Rev. Rick Warren to interview McCain, Obama in a forum Saturday
Each candidate will face questions on faith, leadership, world views
Warren: I'm not going to play "gotcha" with McCain, Obama
Bush received support of 78 percent of evangelical voters in 2004 election
From Ed Hornick
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The political spotlight will shine on Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama Obama on Saturday night, when the two candidates will face tough questions focused on personal values, presidential leadership and international affairs.
The Rev. Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book "The Purpose-Driven Life," will spend an hour interviewing each candidate at his 20,000-member Saddleback mega-church in southern California.
On Thursday's "Situation Room," Warren said he won't play the role of a political pundit, or ask "gotcha" questions, but rather tackle four areas of interest: the role of the presidency in government, leadership, the candidates' world view and America's role internationally.
Warren said he's focused on asking both presumptive nominees questions that "don't have a lot wiggle room."
"But I do want to know how they handle a crisis, because a lot of the things in the presidency often deal with things you don't know are going to happen, that we don't know will happen in the next four years. ... There are a lot of different things you can deal with in the life of a leader that will tell us more about the candidate than some of the typical questions," he said. Watch Warren discuss his plans for the forum »
Warren said he won't endorse either candidate and will let his followers make up their own minds.
The stakes will be especially high for McCain, who has made a strong appeal this year to social conservatives and evangelical Christians.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, taken July 27-29, showed that among white, born-again or evangelical voters, 67 percent are for McCain, with 24 percent for Obama.
Although it's a strong showing for McCain, he's lagging 11 points behind President Bush's showing in 2004. Exit polls show that Bush beat Sen. John Kerry 78 percent to 21 percent among these voters.
Asked whether McCain has an advantage with evangelicals, Warren said he's not going to predict how the influential religious group will vote. Watch more on the evangelical vote »
He added, "I can tell you this: They're not a monolithic bloc, as the press frequently tries to make them out to be. I think that for many evangelicals, they're not convinced that either of these men is an evangelical. They may be believers in Christ, they may be Christian, but they want to know, for instance, their world view. And they want to hear it out."
But even as former GOP presidential candidate and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee -- who was thought to have locked up the evangelical vote given his background as a minister -- made a strong showing in the GOP primaries this year, McCain was pulling in a substantial number of evangelical votes.
McCain, who was raised an Episcopalian and now identifies himself as Baptist, rarely discusses his faith.
"I'm unashamed and unembarrassed about my deep faith in God. But I do not obviously try to impose my views on others," McCain said April 11.
Since then, the Arizona senator has met with many of the evangelical leaders who did not support his candidacy during the primary season. At a private meeting this summer, dozens of the movement's most prominent figures voted to support his campaign.
But by some accounts, their grass-roots efforts to rally the conservative Christian base have lagged recently.
Obama's positions in favor of abortion rights and same-sex civil unions, meanwhile, have also created some tension among evangelical voters otherwise drawn to his candidacy.
But the Democrat, who is Christian, has made it a point to discuss his religion on the trail this year and launched an ambitious outreach effort targeting these voters, including private summits with pastors and a major campaign aimed at young evangelicals.
And Obama's evangelical supporters, including members of the new Matthew 25 political action committee, rallied around the Democrat in late June when Christian conservative James Dobson accused him of "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible."
False rumors that Obama is a Muslim threaten to undermine support from key voting blocs like evangelicals and Catholics.
CNN's Dana Bash, Tom Foreman, Ed Henry, Ed Hornick and Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report.