In their first back-to-back appearance as presidential nominees -- at a forum aimed at evangelicals -- Barack Obama said Saturday his greatest moral failure was his selfishness, while John McCain said it was his first marriage.
The rivals were led through mostly identical questions by Pastor Rick Warren, who presides over the mammoth Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Obama went first, while McCain was sequestered so he would not know the specific question. While not a debate -- there will be three -- the Saturday session showed that Obama's penchant for nuance will face McCain's tendency for directness.
The Obama campaign has been making a major play for faith-based voters -- he has been to Saddleback before -- who in past presidential elections trended Republican or stayed at home.
On the hot-button issue of abortion -- Warren knew going in that Obama supports abortion rights and McCain does not -- Warren asked when a baby is entitled to human rights. Obama said, "Answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade," while McCain said, to applause, "At the moment of conception."
• • On the moral failure question, Obama related his youthful experimentation with drugs and alcohol and said that reflected "a certain selfishness on my part ... I was so obsessed with me ... I could not focus on other people."
McCain paused a moment and said, "The failure of my first marriage." McCain has talked and written about his divorce. In 2002, he told CNN's Larry King, "I was responsible for the breakup of my first marriage, due to my immature and very bad behavior."
• • Obama said he would not have appointed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- the second black on the nation's highest court.
"I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas," Obama said in response to a question about which justice he would not have appointed. "I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation."
Obama -- who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago -- also said he would not have picked Justice Antonin Scalia "because he and I just disagree."
McCain said he would not have named two picked by Democratic presidents -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer -- and, more important to McCain's quest to solidify his conservative base, two tapped by Republicans, John Paul Stevens and David Souter.
Conservatives consider the appointment of Souter, who turned out to be moderate on the court, a "mistake."