Obama Endorsed By Colin Powell

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president Sunday, describing the Illinois senator as a "transformational figure." Video by AP
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2008

Colin L. Powell yesterday became the most prominent Republican to endorse Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, with the former secretary of state and retired four-star general declaring the senator from Illinois to be a "transformational" figure who would "electrify our country . . . [and] the world."

Powell's endorsement, on NBC's "Meet the Press," came as Obama's campaign announced it had raised more than $150 million in September, more than doubling the previous record for monthly fundraising and giving him a vast financial advantage over Republican John McCain in the final weeks before Election Day.

Powell said he respects McCain and considers him a friend. But he said that McCain's "unsure" response to the ongoing economic crisis and his selection of a running mate whom "I don't believe is ready to be president of the United States" disappointed him, as had the recent negative tenor of McCain's campaign and a "narrower and narrower" Republican approach to serious national problems.

"I watched Mr. Obama," particularly in recent weeks, Powell said, and "he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge . . . in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor."

Obama "has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people," he said. "He is crossing lines -- ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines." Powell added that the Democratic senator had chosen in Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. a running mate who "is ready to be president on Day One."

In a telephone interview yesterday, Powell said his decision had been "emerging since the conventions, when I heard the convention speeches, saw who the vice presidential candidates were and then watched the debates."

"The real question," he said, "was whether to go public. . . . I just felt I had to, and I crossed that bridge last week" after consulting with close friends and family members. He said he had not informed either campaign in advance.

The announcement is a blow to McCain, a fellow Vietnam War veteran whose 2000 presidential campaign Powell supported before George W. Bush won the Republican nomination. McCain had publicly pledged during that campaign to name Powell as his secretary of state.

McCain sought to shrug off yesterday's endorsement, saying that he has always "admired and respected" Powell and that it "doesn't come as a surprise." He said that he was pleased to have the support of four other former Republican secretaries of state, and he said he had "a respectful disagreement" with Powell over whether Obama is ready to lead the country.

Powell, 71, served as secretary of state during President Bush's first term, but most of the power of his endorsement comes from his 35-year military career, during which he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and earlier as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

Still reviled by some Democrats for his support of the Iraq war, Powell did not oppose the 2003 decision to invade the country. But inside the administration, and in public after leaving office, he was sharply critical of the conduct of the occupation. He has said that his February 2003 United Nations speech on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction was based on faulty intelligence and remains a "blot" on his record.

Since his departure from government in January 2005, however, Powell has regained much of the stature he held before joining the Bush administration; he remains highly respected at home and abroad as a foreign policy "pragmatist" and political centrist. His stamp of approval is likely to improve Obama's already favorable chances in once-reliable Republican states such as Virginia, and with the military community.

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