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Republican Colin Powell Endorses Democrat Obama

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.