US secretary of State, Colin Powell endorses Senator Barack Obama for President. (Photo: Getty Images)
Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president on Sunday morning as a candidate who was reaching out in a "more diverse and inclusive way across our society" and offering a "calm, patient, intellectual, steady approach" to the nationâ€™s problems.
The endorsement, on the NBC public affairs program "Meet the Press," was a major blow to Senator John McCain, who has been a good friend of Mr. Powell for decades. Mr. Powell, a Republican, has advised Mr. McCain in the past on foreign policy.
Mr. Powell told reporters after the taping of "Meet the Press" that he had been disturbed in recent weeks by the negative tone of Mr. McCainâ€™s campaign, particularly its focus on Mr. Obamaâ€™s passing relationship with William Ayers, a 1960s radical and founder of the Weather Underground. The McCain campaign has sought to promote the idea that Mr. Obama is "palling around with terrorists," in the words of Mr. McCainâ€™s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, because of Mr. Obamaâ€™s weak links to Mr. Ayers.
"I thought that was over the top," Mr. Powell told reporters. "It was beyond just good political fighting back and forth."
Mr. Powell did offer Mr. McCain a small dose of solace by calling him a different kind of Republican, although one who would support the partyâ€™s standard positions.
"As gifted as he 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, and heâ€™d be quite good at it," Mr. Powell said. "But I think we need a generational change."
In offering his endorsement, Mr. Powell becomes the highest profile Republican to add his support to the Democratic ticket. Aides said it was not yet known whether the two men would campaign together â€“ or what Mr. Powell would do alone â€“ in the final two weeks of the presidential campaign.
Those talks, aides said, were underway on Sunday.
Mr. Powellâ€™s endorsement exposed a fundamental policy rift in the fractious Republican party foreign policy establishment between the so-called pragmatists, a number of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake, and a competing camp, the neoconservatives, whose thinking dominated President Bush's first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war.
Mr. Powell, who is of the pragmatist camp and has been critical of the Bush administrationâ€™s conduct of the war, was said by friends in recent months to be disturbed by some of the neoconservatives who have surrounded Mr. McCain as foreign policy advisers in his presidential campaign. The McCain campaignâ€™s top foreign policy aide is Randy Scheunemann, who was a foreign policy adviser to former Senators Trent Lott and Bob Dole and who has longtime ties to neoconservatives. In 2002, Mr. Scheunemann was a founder of the hawkish Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraqi exile and Pentagon favorite, Ahmad Chalabi, who was viewed with suspicion and distaste at the State Department when Mr. Powell was secretary of state.
Mr. Powell met with both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama in June in preparation to make a possible endorsement. He has said repeatedly in recent months that he wanted to wait until after the political conventions and the presidential debates before making a decision.
Mr. Powellâ€™s support of Mr. Obama was not a surprise to people who know him well and within Washingtonâ€™s foreign policy establishment, but the Obama campaign welcomed it as a powerful reassurance to voters about Mr. Obamaâ€™s national security credentials. Other voters, however, could discount it as an action of a disgruntled member of the Bush administration or as simply the support of one African American for another.
Mr. Powell also told reporters on Sunday that he was troubled that a number of Americans believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, although he did not directly link that supposition to the McCain campaign. At a recent town-hall style meeting, Mr. McCain told an audience member who said she thought that Mr. Obama was an "Arab," "no, ma'am, heâ€™s a decent family man."
"These are the kinds of images going out on Al Jazeera that are killing us around the world," Mr. Powell said. "And we have got to say to the world it doesnâ€™t make any difference who you are and what you are. If youâ€™re an American youâ€™re an American."
Mr. McCain was asked about Mr. Powell's endorsement during an interview on Fox News Sunday.
"I have always admired and respected General Powell," Mr. McCain said. "We have a respectful disagreement."
Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.