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Colin Powell and the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy

Back when former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell endorsed then candidate Barack Obama for president in the 2008 campaign, we described it as a "symbolic endorsement" -- the best sort of endorsement in our Fix Endorsement Hierarchy.

Video: Colin Powell says he is still a Republican even though he endorsed President Obama.

(Not familiar with the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy? For shame! Short answer: It's an attempt to rank every sort of endorsement based on its importance or lack thereof. Long answer: here. And scroll to the bottom of this post for a full list of the categories in the endorsement hierarchy.)

So, when we heard the news this morning that Powell was "sticking" with Obama in 2012, we -- and the world -- wondered: Is it still a symbolic endorsement?

Answer: No. It's a national endorsement -- still potentially powerful but less meaningful than a symbolic endorsement.


First and foremost because there's no element of surprise here. In 2008 when Powell announced his support of Obama, it was the country's most beloved general (and a Republican to boot) saying he had confidence in the foreign policy judgment of this decidedly inexperienced Senator from Illinois. No one expected it from Powell and when it happened, the endorsement was widely regarded as of "final piece of the puzzle" moment.

As we wrote back in 2008:

"With polling -- both in the key battleground states and nationally -- showing that voters trust Obama more than John McCain to handle the current economic morass, one of McCain's last hopes is that the the election turns back somehow to a foreign policy focus. If Powell does endorse Obama, it would shore up the Illinois senator even if that eventuality occurred; it would be hard for McCain to slam Obama's approach on the war if the Democrat had a Powell endorsement sitting in his back pocket."

This time around, the element of surprise is gone. And, while the Obama team is already using the Powell endorsement as proof that there is only one real commander-in-chief in the race, it's hard to see the endorsement having the same sort of lift that it did four years ago.

That said, Powell's endorsement is not without meaning -- particularly since he took time to not only support Obama but also bash former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

"Not only am I not comfortable with what Governor Romney is proposing for his economic plan, I have concerns about his views on foreign policy," Powell said during an appearance on "CBS This Morning" -- adding that the Republican nominee had "some very, very strong neo-conservative views" and describing Romney's foreign policy vision as a "moving target".

Our guess is that those quotes will find their way into an Obama ad in the very near future. And, as we noted in 2008, Powell remains among the most popular and trusted figures operating in American politics, which should give his words some heft. (A CNN poll in May 2009 showed that seven in ten people viewed Powell favorably while just 17 percent saw him in an unfavorable light.)

To be clear: Romney would have loved to win Powell's endorsement. (There is nothing so powerful in politics as a turnabout.) And Powell's endorsement of Obama could well firm up the incumbent's lead over Romney on the commander-in-chief question. But, Powell's 2012 endorsement simply doesn't carry the same weight that the 2008 version did.

 The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy (ranked in order of importance)

* The Symbolic Endorsement: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush endorsing Mitt Romney for president.

* The National Endorsement: Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty for Romney.

* The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to Sen. John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.

* The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee in 2008; Oprah for Obama.

* The Newspaper Endorsement: The Washington Post endorsing state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary.

* Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.

* The What Goes Around Comes Around Endorsement: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing Rubio.

* The Obligatory Endorsement: George W. Bush endorsing McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.

* The “Me for Me” Endorsement: Former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) endorsing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D) 2010 Senate campaign.

* The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) passing on an endorsement of Sen. David Vitter’s (R) 2010 reelection bid.

* The Backfire Endorsement: Former Vice President Al Gore endorsing former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential race.

* The Pariah Endorsement: Jailed former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham backing Newt Gingrich.

Newspaper endorsements around the United States See newspaper editorial board endorsements for president. (Charlie Beibergall/AP)


Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



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