Sen. Barack Obama captured a forceful endorsement Sunday from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and shattered campaign-finance records...
WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama captured a forceful endorsement Sunday from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and shattered campaign-finance records in September, gaining a huge financial edge that may allow him to overwhelm Sen. John McCain’s efforts in every corner of the country.
The description of Obama as a “transformational figure” by a Republican who directed the first Iraq war could lift Obama among independents, moderates and Republicans and neutralize concerns about his experience, aides said.
And the Democratic candidate’s record-breaking fundraising — $150 million in September, more than double what he raised in August — could help Obama sell that message by letting him spend at full throttle, even investing in new battlegrounds like West Virginia with a luxury of not having to choose among states.
Obama intends to devote most of his time over the next 15 days in states President Bush won, aides said, going to Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia.
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While McCain has ruled out trying to expand his electoral map, he is aggressively trying to defend those states, the largest of which could go either way.
But the events Sunday, taken together, dealt another dispiriting setback to Republicans, particularly because Powell is a longtime friend of McCain’s and even donated to his campaign.
Of Obama, Powell said, “I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into, onto the world stage.” Obama quickly seized upon the words.
“A great soldier, a great statesman and a great American has endorsed our campaign to change America,” Obama said in Fayetteville, N.C.; that state has not backed a Democrat for president since 1976.
“He knows, as we do, that this is a moment where we all need to come together as one nation — young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat,” Obama said.
With just two weeks to go in the campaign, McCain finds himself in a daunting position, with polls in critical swing states giving him few avenues to victory Nov. 4.
But having been declared dead politically before, he has embraced his underdog status, firing away at Obama on economic issues and assailing his robust fundraising, which some campaign-finance experts said could signal the death of public financing of campaigns.
Commenting on Obama’s fundraising prowess, McCain noted in a television interview his opponent had broken his earlier pledge to accept public financing for the general election.
By Obama’s raising more than $600 million, McCain said, the “dam has broken” for future presidential campaigns.
McCain, who accepted public financing and received an $84 million allotment from the Treasury, suggested he may well be the last presidential candidate to run under the current rules, established at the end of the Watergate era.
“It’s laying a predicate for the future that can be very dangerous,” McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.” “History shows us where unlimited amounts of money are in political campaigns, it leads to scandal.”
Reacting to the Powell endorsement, McCain did not criticize the former secretary of state, saying, “I respect and continue to respect and admire Secretary Powell.” He did not mention the endorsement at a pair of rallies in Ohio.
“We’re going to win Ohio and we’re going to show the pundits again that they were wrong,” McCain said to cheers in Toledo. He focused on economics, warning that Obama would try to “redistribute the wealth” through his tax proposals.
Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush’s father and President Clinton, seemed intent on making the most of his endorsement by saving it until the end of the race and by not telling either candidate before disclosing it on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Powell said he was dismayed by the campaign’s tenor, declared Gov. Sarah Palin was not fit to be vice president, said he was displeased with the GOP’s direction and called McCain scattered on the economy.
“Every day there was a different approach,” he said.
“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 he’d be quite good at it,” Powell said of McCain, a friend for 25 years. “But I think we need a generational change.”
While several Republicans brushed aside the significance of the endorsement, saying they believed it had been in the works for weeks, others said they were more concerned by Obama’s ability to dwarf McCain in spending during the closing two weeks of the campaign.
As strategists for Obama eyed intensifying efforts in North Dakota, Georgia and West Virginia, Republicans advisers were trimming theirs back to states won by President Bush in 2004 and hoping for the best elsewhere.
While Powell said he had no plans to campaign for Obama, he became the highest profile Republican to add his support to the Democratic ticket.
He dismissed the notion he was supporting Obama because they are both black.
Powell contributed $2,300 to McCain last year and said he studied both candidates for nearly two years, but that in recent weeks Obama has impressed him.
“He displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems,” Powell said, adding: “Not jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.”