Monday, October 20, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama announced that he had raised more than $150 million for his campaign in September, collected the endorsement of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Sunday and continued to see the kinds of signals that suggest he is positioned for a big night on Nov. 4.

The Democratic presidential nominee campaigned in the formerly solidly Republican state of North Carolina and fended off accusations from Republican opponent Sen. John McCain that the Illinois Democrat is a socialist because he told “Joe the Plumber” that he wanted to “spread the wealth.”

Along the way he grabbed the endorsement of Mr. Powell, who served in President Bush’s administration but who said that the Republican Party has veered too far right and that he was disappointed by the tone of Mr. McCain’s campaign.

Mr. Powell, who was the nation’s top military officer during the Persian Gulf War, said Mr. Obama has proved during the crisis on Wall Street that he is ready to run the country.

“I watched Mr. Obama and I watched him during this seven-week period. And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on Day One,” Mr. Powell told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The retired general also said that the McCain campaign’s focus on Mr. Obama’s ties to Weather Underground founder William Ayers “goes too far.”

The McCain campaign said Mr. Powell’s own history underscored how “unproven and inexperienced” Mr. Obama is - although Mr. McCain himself was more measured in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” saying he respects Mr. Powell but that the endorsement “doesn’t come as a surprise” and that he has his own endorsements from four other secretaries of state in Republican administrations.

Despite Mr. Obama’s good weekend, Mr. McCain said on “Fox News Sunday” that he feels he is headed in the right direction.

“I’ve been on enough campaigns, my friend, to sense enthusiasm and momentum, and we’ve got it,” he told host Chris Wallace. “I don’t have to look at polls, but the polling numbers have closed dramatically in the last few days.”

He pointed to several of the most recent polls that suggest he’s closer than the six or seven percentage points by which he has trailed Mr. Obama for much of the month.

Since last week’s presidential debate, Mr. McCain has settled on “Joe the Plumber,” an Ohio man named Joe Wurzelbacher, as the symbol of the message he hopes will reach voters. Campaigning in Ohio, Mr. McCain said he is running “on behalf of Joe the Plumber and Rose the Teacher and Phil the Bricklayer and Wendy the Waitress.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s campaign announced that he collected more than $150 million in September, a haul that shatters fundraising records. He attracted 632,000 new donors that month, bringing his total number of campaign donors to 3.1 million.

In an e-mail to supporters, the Obama campaign called it another sign of his people-powered strategy.

Mr. McCain on Sunday criticized Mr. Obama for seeming to be trying to buy the election, and said the Democratic candidate has probably ruined the current financing system.

“The dam is broken. We’re now going to see huge amounts of money coming into political campaigns, and we know history tells us that always leads to scandal,” said Mr. McCain, who just six years ago led the fight for the current system that has left him at such a disadvantage.

Mr. McCain opted to take public financing for his general election campaign, which constrains him to the $84 million in taxpayer dollars that the system allows. He and running mate Sarah Palin have been raising money for the Republican National Committee, which said it raised $66 million in September.

It’s not clear how many votes Mr. Powell’s endorsement will bring, and some Republican voters are angry that he made the move.

“That man betrayed me, he betrayed my trust,” said Roger Farina, 41, who was protesting outside an early-voting site in Fayetteville, N.C. “I felt like somebody stabbed me in the heart. I thought he was a smart man, a man of character and judgment.”

The McCain supporter said he once respected Mr. Powell so much that he would have voted for him for president. But now he held a sign saying: “Wrong on WMD, wrong on Obama.”

But the fact that Mr. Obama was campaigning in North Carolina, after having spent time in Virginia this weekend, and plans to play offense for the rest of this campaign in states Mr. Bush won in 2004, doesn’t bode well for Mr. McCain.

A day after a McCain adviser predicted that the Republican would win the vote in “real Virginia” - the parts of the state outside of liberal-leaning Northern Virginia - Mr. Obama said it was wrong to try to divide the country.

“There are no real or fake parts of this country. We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this nation,” he said.

Mr. Obama added that he was “beyond honored and deeply humbled to have the support of General Colin Powell.”

Christina Bellantoni reported from Fayetteville, N.C

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