For a few hot hours Saturday afternoon, a sterile stretch of South Orange County suburbia transformed into a rowdy free speech zone outside Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.
Nearly 1,000 demonstrators from across the political spectrum descended on the megachurch for the forum with presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.
Protesters bearing drums, banners and megaphones sweated in the scorching sun, rallying passing motorists to toot their horns in solidarity as choppers circled overhead.
"It's a time when each of us is called to do whatever we can as individuals to make a statement large and small," said Karen McKie, 58, a doll maker and storyteller visiting from Berkeley.
Antiwar protesters from Answer LA were the most raucous, their speakers blaring chants of "Obama, McCain, stop the war." Orange County sheriff's deputies chased some group members down a hillside off of Saddleback property, and a scuffle between groups led to two demonstrators being removed, said Deputy Richard Nelson of Lake Forest Police Services. One motorist was cited for using a bullhorn in the middle of the street, he said.
About a dozen mounted deputies, plus a couple dozen more on motorcycles and on foot directing traffic, controlled the swelling crowd.
Portola Parkway was lined with photos of fetuses displayed by anti-abortion activists; and members of that group stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Libertarians, anti- illegal immigration demonstrators, a busload of McCain fans and AARP members hoping to focus attention on rising healthcare costs.
Julia Giacopuzzi, 15, made the trek from Lake Arrowhead to take a stand against abortion.
"It's time for our generation to stand up for our brothers and sisters being murdered," she said holding up a poster featuring a fetus.
Sporting John McCain earrings, buttons, a baseball cap and T-shirt, Sandy Walden was bursting with GOP pride.
"He's authentic," the 58-year-old nurse from Laguna Niguel said of McCain. "There's nothing phony about him."
Obama devotees of all ages crammed onto their designated block as local Democratic Party organizers attempted to register voters.
Elizabeth Duong brought her three school-age children, hoping to teach them about the political process. The 42-year-old Obama supporter said she occasionally attends Saddleback Church with her family and is a fan of Pastor Rick Warren and his bestselling "The Purpose Driven Life."
In spite of the healthy turnout, many activists there were skeptical that Warren's forum would cover new ground.
"We want to hear that somebody thinks the integrity of the national boundaries is meaningful and necessary," said Britt Craig, 59, a Mission Viejo resident with the Campo Minutemen who spends four or five days a week patrolling the border. "I don't think we're going to hear it from either one of them."
Not everyone circling Portola Parkway had political ideals in mind. One woman rounded the intersection with a fluorescent pink sign: "Extra ticket -- I'd love one."
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At what point is a baby entitled to human rights?
'At the moment of conception. I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate. And as president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies.'
-- John McCain
'Well, I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.'
-- Barack Obama
Supreme Court justices would you not have nominated?
'I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker. . . . I profoundly disagree with his interpretation of a lot of the Constitution. I would not nominate Justice Scalia -- although I don't think there's any doubt about his intellectual brilliance -- because he and I just disagree.'
-- Barack Obama
'With all due respect, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Souter and Justice Stevens. . . . This nomination should be based on the criteria of proven record of strictly adhering to the Constitution of the United States of America and not legislating from the bench.'
-- John McCain