The Impact Of Powell And Money

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NPR news analyst Juan Williams talks with host Jacki Lyden about Colin Powell's endorsement and what effect it may have on the election. They also discuss the Obama campaign's record $150 million fundraising haul last month — and how John McCain is fighting back.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

NPR news analyst Juan Williams has been following the endorsement game throughout the campaign. I asked him what impact Colin Powell's announcement might have.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, Jacki, what you've got to do from a purely political standpoint is look at the voters who might be impacted by this. And it turns out they are the very voters who are at stake in the final days of this campaign. You're looking at independents. You're looking at moderate Republicans who might be verging on thinking about a vote for Obama, given all the economic problems in the country right now. They're still there, and they're still waiting to be sold.

And Colin Powell, who is the original crossover black political star in this country, his embrace of Obama gives him not only the imprimatur of a man who has a military background and foreign policy background, but a man who's 71 years old, and he's saying, you know what? I'm going to be involved in this Obama administration if there is one. He's going to have access to the Oval Office. He doesn't have to knock to walk in. That does say something to those voters and may be persuasive.

LYDEN: A crossover figure. But for the African-American community, this strikes me as almost a generational shift because he's also an establishment figure.

WILLIAMS: He's 71, Jacki. And so what you've got to understand here is that previously Powell has been sort of out of sync with the black community in this country in terms of major policies because all of his patrons throughout his career have been Republicans. They're basically the ones who have brought him up, made him chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you know, put him in as secretary of state. He has been part of that Republican cadre.

And now what you see is, I think, Powell's embrace of this younger black man is suggesting that, wait a minute, I'm also the guy who is supportive of affirmative action, supportive of abortion rights in this country, reminding people a little bit of those credentials, and I think speaking to his legacy as a black man, which is something that he has been reluctant to speak to before.

LYDEN: You've talked to General Powell. What do you think this means for him personally?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that there's a lot going on here, and it begins with the anger that he felt, I think, at the growing prominence of neoconservatives in the Republican Party. You'll notice that in offering the endorsement to Senator Obama, he spoke about Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, and said what a disappointment that was. He thinks it was a mistake in judgment and that she's not experienced enough, not informed on key issues, to really be the leader of this country.

And I think if you think about Sarah Palin as representing the right wing of the Republican Party, here was Powell with an opportunity to engage in some payback. Because you'll recall, the most embarrassing moment in his career was when he was sitting there at the United Nations, testifying with those test tubes about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, George Tenet the CIA director seated behind him. I think he felt pushed into that by a lot of the neocons who said he was not sufficiently conservative, loyal to the Bush administration. And it haunts him to this day, Jacki.

LYDEN: Let's talk about money now. The Obama fundraising total for September was almost - am I allowed to use the word mind-blowing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: For $150 million for September?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. And you know what? Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, also announced that they're doing well. Right now, they have like $24 million in the bank. And they had been lagging behind. Part of John McCain's hope had been that the money the RNC, the Republican National Committee, had was going to compensate for the fact that he had bought in to public financing. But let me just tell you, you're right, mind-blowing is the word.

And not only that, Jacki. Check this out. His average contribution was about $84. So what you're seeing is just an amazing number of people contributing, much of it through the Internet. So, young people continuing to be involved in supporting this Obama campaign and even now in a general election.

LYDEN: So, $150 million. If you're John McCain, what sort of political advantage can you make of this, or can you? What can he do?

WILLIAMS: Well, he can certainly say he's the underdog. And already you hear this. But let me tell you, the McCain people have told me just yesterday, in the next coming weeks they won't be able to spend as much money as Obama. But they have saved their money, and they're going to now go on the air aggressively. The question is what is the theme they're going to pursue? Is it going to be more errors? Or is it going to be, don't forget Obama's the most liberal senator and you can't trust him with your tax dollars and back to Joe the Plumber?

LYDEN: NPR's Juan Williams, thanks very much for stopping in.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Jacki.

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