Colin Powell endorses Obama

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Colin Powell, a Republican who was President Bush’s first secretary of state, endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president on Sunday and criticized the tone of Republican Sen. John McCain’s campaign.

Mr. Powell said that both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are qualified to be commander in chief but that Mr. Obama is better suited to handle the nation’s economic problems as well as help improve its standing in the world.

“It isn’t easy for me to disappoint Sen. McCain in the way that I have this morning, and I regret that,” Mr. Powell, interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said of his longtime friend, the Arizona senator.

“But I firmly believe that at this point in America’s history, we need a president that will not just continue, even with a new face and with the changes and with some maverick aspects, who will not just continue basically the policies that we have been following in recent years,” Mr. Powell said.

“I think we need a transformational figure. I think we need a president who is a generational change, and that’s why I’m supporting Barack Obama, not out of any lack of respect or admiration for Sen. John McCain.”

Mr. Powell’s endorsement has been much anticipated because he is a Republican with impressive foreign policy credentials, a subject on which Mr. Obama is weak. At the same time, Mr. Powell is a black man, and Mr. Obama would be the nation’s first black president.

Mr. Powell said that he was cognizant of the racial aspect of his endorsement but said that it was not the dominant factor in his decision. If it was, he said, he would have made the endorsement months ago.

Mr. Powell expressed disappointment in the negative tone of Mr. McCain’s campaign, his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate, and Mr. McCain and Mrs. Palin’s decision to focus in the closing weeks of the contest on Mr. Obama’s ties to 1960s-era radical William Ayers. A co-founder of the Weather Underground, which claimed responsibility for nonfatal bombings during the Vietnam War era, Mr. Ayers is now a college professor who lives in Mr. Obama’s Chicago neighborhood. He and Mr. Obama also served together on civic boards in Chicago.

“This Bill Ayers situation that’s been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign,” Powell said. “But Mr. McCain says that he’s a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?”

Mr. Powell said Mr. McCain’s choice of Mrs. Palin raised questions about judgment.

“I don’t believe she’s ready to be president of the United States,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell, as secretary of state, helped make the case before the United Nations for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, launched in March 2003. A retired general, he also was the nation’s top military commander, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the first Gulf war under President George H.W. Bush.

Mr. McCain disagreed with Mr. Powell’s decision and said he has been endorsed by four other former secretaries of state, all veterans of Republican administrations: Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Lawrence Eagleburger and Alexander Haig.

“Well, I’ve always admired and respected Gen. Powell. We’re longtime friends. This doesn’t come as a surprise,” Mr. McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Asked whether Mr. Powell’s endorsement would undercut his campaign’s assertion that Mr. Obama is not ready to lead, Mr. McCain said, “Well, again, we have a very, we have a respectful disagreement, and I think the American people will pay close attention to our message for the future and keeping America secure.”

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