I missed the Open Forum hosted by Rick Warren which puts me in the unique position of commenting on it from utter ignorance. Instead, I've spent more time reading reactions (rather than transcripts), and interpreting them. The question of "Who won?" has prompted the following generalizations:
Obama won: Because he gave thoughtful, nuanced answers to a mostly Republican audience without apologizing for his party's platform. He took his time, was not the impassioned orator of his rallies, but instead offered detailed remarks and looked Rick Warren in the eye as he spoke. He validated the "already Obama fan" evangelical, though it's unclear he won over any of the fence-sitters looking for an unapologetic pro-life stance. Some say he supported Rick Warren's "Whole Life" idea (that we are not to be concerned merely with conception through birth, but the after birth as well).
McCain won: He spoke with deliberateness, spoke concisely, made remarks consistent with the conservative wing of the R party. While detractors said he pandered (didn't actually look at Rick as he spoke etc.), fans felt he nailed the questions with black and white answers suited to his audience. His stories engaged viewers and audience alike, his style showed more confidence and panache than anyone expected. His overall tone didn't just reassure evangelicals who were unenthusiastic about his candidacy; he gave them reasons to vote for him with some level of conviction.
Warren won: Lots of people have said that Warren won - he drew the long stick, getting the two candidates together for the first time in front of the nation. He made his church, his constituency, his worldview a player in the election in a way unprecedented, even when Bush was running away with the evangelical vote.
My take on all this, though, diverges. I'd say the Democratic party won.
Here's why. Evangelicals are no longer a monolithic block. Let's look at how fractured these evangelicals have become. For the last four years, a growing number of malcontents within the evangelical Republican community have voiced their shift in focus from heaven-hell theology to social justice. This shift has enabled formerly hardcore Republicans to consider the party platform of the Democrats. The lack of progress in the laws related to abortion under Republican presidents and a Republican congress has unmasked the "wedge issue" nature of that platform item. Pro-life is a Republican slogan, not a conviction among the powers that be. That means, for the first time since Reagan, committed pro-lifers have had to ask what actually reduces (in real numbers) the abortion rate (not just how can the laws be changed).
Turns out social programs help: inner city education and job training, birth control and health care options do give unwed mothers alternatives to abortion. The party who cares more about that is the Democratic party.
Additionally, the war has become a moral issue for Christians. Can we justify supporting a president and party that lied to the American people to start a war in a sovereign state? Can we keep sending our young people into a civil war that we can't contain or control?
McCain represents more of the same: a commitment to the platform that got George Bush elected. He has even back pedaled on his more moderate positions (he has a record of supporting stem cell research, for instance) in order to provide reassurance to doubting hardcore, xtn Republicans. What he is not calculating is that there is a growing number of evangelicals who don't want to hear the same old answers.
Those evangelicals are interested in Obama. Abortion is the number one stumbling block for those Republicans. They want to believe that a changed view (a Democratic view) of economics, the government's role in social welfare programs, diplomacy over war, and increased taxes would be a more moral vision than the one that's failed them for the last eight+ years. They want to believe that abortions (the real ones, not the theory or laws about them) will go down under a changed model of leadership.
McCain did nothing to reassure those evangelicals. He merely corralled the already hardcore right that he is the next Bush, but with more conviction and better war stories.
For the remaining disaffected, new theology evangelicals (the McClaren followers, the emergents, the college kids who can't relate to Dobson or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity), Obama represents a risk they are more and more willing to take.
What that means, then, is that the evangelical "base" is fractured. It only takes a small percentage to undermine the "block vote" they once represented. And that is why I say that Warren's open forum was actually a win for Democrats. The truth is, even just hosting it proves the evangelical world has gone through a shift. There is no way in hell (I mean it) that Clinton would ever have been invited to an evangelical church for a conversation with the Republican candidate.
Today, you can say you are voting Obama and not feel that your church membership or salvation are suddenly in question. That's what change means. Proof that evangelicals won't be the key demographic this time.