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Powell endorses Obama, polls show McCain dipping

Associated Press | 10/22/2008, 4:55 a.m.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves federal court in Washington on Oct. 10, 2008. Powell, a Republican who was President George W. Bush’s first secretary of state, endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president on Sunday and criticized the tone of Republican nominee John McCain’s campaign. The retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said both Obama and McCain are qualified to be commander in chief, but that Obama is better suited to handle the nation’s economic problems, as well as help improve its standing in the world. AP /Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — Democrat Barack Obama won the endorsement Sunday of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican and fellow African American who served as the country’s top diplomat in the first George W. Bush administration. He called the Illinois senator a “transformational figure.”

The politically powerful endorsement from Powell, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could do much to undercut Republican opponent John McCain’s argument that Obama is not ready and too risky to serve as the U.S. military commander in chief.

“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,” Powell said on NBC television.

McCain’s strongest campaign credentials are his long background in military and national security affairs, and he is a hero of the Vietnam War, during which he was held prisoner for 5 1/2 years. He said he was not surprised by the Powell endorsement of Obama, but noted he was backed by four other former secretaries of state and scores of past and present military leaders.

Obama, meanwhile, reported on Sunday raising more than $150 million in September, an unprecedented outpouring of private political donations that further widened his financial advantage over McCain, who has been likening his opponent to European socialists.

The September haul boosted Obama’s fundraising total to $605 million, a campaign war chest far larger than any seen in U.S. presidential contests. The Illinois senator’s September donations alone were nearly double the $84 million McCain had available in federal funding for the final two months before the Nov. 4 election. McCain chose to participate in the public financing system; Obama opted out, leaving him able to raise and spend unlimited money from the public.

McCain, the 72-year-old four-term Arizona senator, said on Fox News on Sunday that Obama had been able to raise that money after reneging on a promise to join him in public financing, a move that he said invited political corruption.

“History shows us where unlimited amounts of money are in political campaigns, it leads to scandal,” McCain said, referring to the public financing law that was passed after President Richard Nixon resigned in the midst of the Watergate scandal.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said the campaign had added 632,000 new donors in September, for a total of 3.1 million contributors to the campaign. The average donation was $86, he said in a Sunday morning e-mail to supporters.

The Democratic National Committee, moments later, announced that it had raised $49.9 million in September and had $27.5 million in the bank at the start of October. The party has been raising money through joint fundraising events with Obama and can use the money to assist his candidacy.

Obama’s September take was 2.3 times the $65 million he raked in during August, his previous monthly best.

Obama had initially promised to accept public financing if McCain did, but changed his mind after setting primary fundraising records. The extraordinary outpouring of public giving could doom the taxpayer-paid system. Many Republicans have begun to second-guess McCain’s decision to participate in the program.