Republican Colin Powell Endorses Democrat Obama

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Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has picked up the endorsement of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The former Bush administration official broke with the Republican party Sunday. Obama told a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., that he was honored to have Powell's support.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Barack Obama supporters now include a military man who campaigned for George W. Bush. Retired General Colin Powell served as Secretary of State in the Bush administration. He was a supporter of the Iraq war, who had cause to regret the public case he made for it. Powell remained a major Republican figure when he left the administration at the start of 2005. And yesterday, on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said he would be voting for Obama, not his old friend John McCain. We have two reports on how this affects the campaign starting with NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: Top Obama campaign officials insist they had no advanced word of a General Powell planned to do before he sat down with NBC's Tom Brokaw yesterday morning. They say, they found out who Powell would be voting for at the same time the rest of us did when Powell said the words himself on live television.

General COLIN POWELL (Former Secretary of State): I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world stage, on the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.

GONYEA: But if they didn't know it was coming, they knew what to do with it. Senator Obama was in Fayetteville, North Carolina for an afternoon rally in an indoor sports arena.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Nominee): Now, also before we begin, I'd like to acknowledge some news that we learned this morning.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

GONYEA: Obama noted that because of nearby Fort Bragg, this city and state know a little about great soldiers.

Sen. OBAMA: But today I'm beyond honored, I'm deeply humbled to have the support of General Colin Powell.

GONYEA: Obama went on to say Powell's long history of service to the country as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. Powell was the first African-American to hold each of these positions.

Sen. OBAMA: And he knows as we do that this is a moment where we need to all come together as one nation - young and old, rich and poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native-American, Republican and Democrat.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

GONYEA: For the Obama campaign, the benefits of the Powell endorsement are many. Powell is a much-admired figure. His backing could give Independent voters and even some Republicans a reason to vote for Obama. As a distinguished military leader, both in uniform and out, Powell's vote for Obama also blunts John McCain's portrayal of Obama as a shadowy character who consorts with terrorists, a risky choice to be Commander in Chief.

On top of all this, Powell also portrayed McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, as being ill-prepared for the job, and said McCain's handling of the economic crisis had also undermined his sense of confidence in McCain's judgment. Yesterday morning, at Obama's hotel, in a small town of Dunn, North Carolina, a crowd gathered to catch a glimpse of him as he headed out to his motorcade. They weren't all supporters. Some were just there to check things out.

(Soundbite of crowd laughing)

Ms. JAN HIGGINS (Resident, Dunn, North Carolina): We're making history here. I don't care which side of the fence you're on. It's very exciting.

GONYEA: That's 63-year-old, Jan Higgins (ph), a Republican, who was disappointed by the news about Powell. But she said she wasn't surprised.

Ms. HIGGINS: We'll have to deal with it. I think anybody to get in there for the next four years is going to have a heck of job trying to turn the economy around.

GONYEA: Higgins and her husband own a small business in the town of Hickory. Seated nearby was 39-year-old Chris Massy(ph). He lost his job at a textile plant a year ago. These days, he does odd jobs. A strong Obama supporter, he said he hopes Colin Powell's announcement will help the Democrat recruit voters in the military.

Mr. CHRIS MASSY (Resident, Hickory, North Carolina): I think he's going to have - because Powell is a black Republican and Powell is a general so. But I think a lot of people going to get in the bail lane(ph).

GONYEA: Powell's endorsement came on the same day Obama's campaign announced gracing $150 million in the month of September. Yet, despite that record-smashing hall, Obama himself used his speech in North Carolina yesterday to caution his supporters. Over-confidence, he said, is a dangerous thing. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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Powell Endorses Obama, Criticizes GOP's Tone

Colin Powell i

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks to Tom Brokaw during a taping of Meet the Press Sunday in Washington. Powell spoke about endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press hide caption

itoggle caption Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press
Colin Powell

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks to Tom Brokaw during a taping of Meet the Press Sunday in Washington. Powell spoke about endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, saying the Illinois senator would be "a transformational figure" and represent "a generational change" at a critical time for the nation and the world.

Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, Powell said his choice did not reflect any lack of respect or admiration for his longtime friend, John McCain, the Republican nominee.

"As gifted as (McCain) is, he is essentially going to execute the Republican agenda, the orthodoxy of the Republican agenda, with a new face and a maverick approach to it," Powell said.

The endorsement will help Obama deal with charges that he lacks the experience and preparation to lead on national security issues.

Powell's popularity has transcended party and racial lines since he emerged as a hero of the Persian Gulf war in 1991 as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He remained in that job through the first eight months of Bill Clinton's first term as president.

Indeed, Obama began making reference to the endorsement at his first appearance of the day, an outdoor rally in Fayetteville, N.C. He said he was "beyond honored and deeply humbled" at the endorsement by Powell, whom he called "a great soldier, a great statesman and a great American [who] has endorsed our campaign to change America."

And, Obama added, "He knows, as we do, that this is a moment where we all need to come together as one nation — young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat."

By making his vote public, Powell also denies McCain an endorsement the Republicans might have used to change the momentum of the contest, adding instead to the sense that Obama has the upper hand.

There had been rumors that Powell was sympathetic to the Obama candidacy, in part because Powell was the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Obama would be the first black president. Powell said if that had been his motivation, he would have endorsed months earlier.

The retired general is also a Republican whose name was once touted as a possible presidential candidate. He has also been a longtime adviser to McCain, whom he has known for three decades. Powell reportedly had told friends this summer that he would not endorse either candidate because of those loyalties.

But Sunday morning, Powell told NBC's Tom Brokaw that he was uncomfortable with the direction the GOP had taken in recent years and with the tone of the campaign McCain had run this fall. He said McCain was "a different kind of Republican," but that it was not enough.

He also objected to the negative tone of much in the McCain campaign, as well as the choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for vice president and some of McCain's maneuvers responding to the economic crisis.

"Almost every day," Powell said of McCain, "there was a different approach to the problem, and that concerned me, sensing that he doesn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had."

By contrast, Powell said his comfort level with the Democratic nominee had increased. He said Obama, as a senator, candidate and nominee, had shown the necessary depth of judgment to be president, as well as "a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems" that would serve him well in the White House.

McCain responded that he and his friend had "a respectful disagreement" about the endorsement and the issues at stake Nov. 4.

"I've always admired and respected Gen. Powell," he said. "We're longtime friends. This doesn't come as a surprise. But I'm also very pleased to have the endorsement of four former secretaries of state — Kissinger, Baker, Eagleburger and Haig — and I'm proud to have the endorsement of well over 200 retired army generals and admirals. I respect and continue to respect and admire Secretary Powell."

McCain was referring to two secretaries of state under President George H.W. Bush — James A. Baker III and Lawrence Eagleburger; to Alexander Haig, who served under President Reagan; and to Henry Kissinger, who served Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Powell said he would cast his own vote for Obama but did not have plans to campaign for him. That may change in the days ahead, as the two spoke for about 10 minutes after the endorsement Sunday.

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