McCain and Obama In Evangelical Face Off

John McCain’s fundraising romance with Ralph Reed provides the perfect platform for this story:

Saturday night, McCain and Obama appear at their first forum together when they speak at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. And it’s another excellent peg to look at the religious vote in this presidential campaign. According to the polls, McCain is faring well among evangelicals.

In last month’s NBC/WSJ survey, he had a 64%-24% lead over Obama with this group, and a recent Barna Group poll had him up 61%-17%. But when it comes to religion, McCain isn’t George W. Bush, and he has two challenges. One, do these evangelicals come out in same numbers and with the intensity that they did in 2004 (and if not, how does he make up the difference)? And two, is Obama able to peel off enough of them (especially those under 40) to make the difference in key states?

MSNBC’s First Read team goes on to describe this as a “huge” opportunity for Obama, who talks more freely about his religion than John McCain, whose faith one scholar described as “a soldier’s faith” of commitment and duty.