WASHINGTON — Senator Barack Obama on Sunday captured a forceful endorsement from former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and announced he had shattered campaign finance records in September, gaining an immense financial edge that will allow him to overwhelm Senator John McCain’s efforts in every corner of the country.

WASHINGTON — Senator Barack Obama on Sunday captured a forceful endorsement from former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and announced he had shattered campaign finance records in September, gaining an immense financial edge that will allow him to overwhelm Senator John McCain’s efforts in every corner of the country.

The description of Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, as a “transformational figure” by Mr. Powell, a Republican who directed the first Iraq war, could lift Mr. Obama among some independents, moderates and Republicans and neutralize concerns about his experience. And his fund-raising — $150 million last month, more than double what he raised in August — could help him sell that message by allowing him to spend at full throttle, even investing in new battlegrounds like West Virginia without having to choose among states.

Mr. Obama intends to devote most of his time over the next 15 days in states that President Bush won, aides said, going to Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia. Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, has ruled out trying to expand his electoral map but is waging an aggressive effort defending those states, the largest of which still could fall either way.

But the events Sunday, taken together, dealt another dispiriting setback to Republicans, particularly since Mr. Powell is a longtime friend of Mr. McCain’s and even donated to his campaign. “Powell is a glass of warm milk and a cookie for those who can’t sleep worrying about the lack of experience of a President Obama,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist.

Mr. Powell, who made his announcement on “Meet the Press” on NBC, called Mr. Obama “a transformational figure.”

“He is a new generation coming into the world, onto the world stage,” he continued.

The words were quickly seized upon by Mr. Obama.

“A great soldier, a great statesman and a great American has endorsed our campaign to change America,” Mr. Obama said on Sunday in North Carolina, which 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.”

With just two weeks to go in the race, Mr. McCain finds himself in a daunting position, as polls in critical swing states give him fewer avenues to victory on Nov. 4. But having been written off before, he has embraced his underdog status, firing away at Mr. Obama on economic issues and assailing his robust fund-raising while he reminding voters that Mr. Obama had broken a pledge to accept public financing in the general election.

Because Mr. Obama has raised more than $600 million, Mr. McCain said, the “dam has broken” for future presidential campaigns. Mr. 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,” Mr. 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, Mr. 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,” Mr. McCain said to cheers in Toledo. He focused on his economic argument, warning that Mr. Obama would try to “redistribute the wealth” through his tax proposals.

Mr. Powell, a retired Army general who was a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George Bush and President Bill Clinton, seemed intent on making the most out of his endorsement by saving it until the end of the race and by not informing either candidate before disclosing it on “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Powell said he was dismayed by the tenor of the campaign, declared that Mr. McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, was not fit to be vice president, expressed displeasure with the direction of the Republican Party and called Mr. McCain scattered on his approach to the economy. “Every day there was a different approach,” he said.

“As gifted as he is,” Mr. Powell said of Mr. McCain, a friend for 25 years, “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. 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 Mr. Obama’s ability to dwarf Mr. McCain in spending during the final weeks of the campaign. As strategists for Mr. Obama eyed intensifying their efforts in Georgia, North Dakota and West Virginia, Republican advisers were trimming their efforts back to states won by Mr. Bush in 2004 and hoping for the best elsewhere.

The endorsement and the new fund-raising figures came on a weekend filled with signs of fresh momentum for Mr. Obama. He broke his record for crowd sizes, drawing an estimated 100,000 people to an outdoor rally in St. Louis. But the campaigns appear to be locked in a bitter duel in Missouri and a few other states that supported Republicans in recent presidential contests.

“The numbers we’re seeing at rallies are good portents,” said Mr. Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, who like other aides reflected a sweaty and nervous optimism. “These become good barometers of enthusiasm.”

Using Mr. Obama as a magnet, the large rallies are specifically intended to stir interest in early voting and to serve as practice exercises for local campaign organizers to get out the vote on Election Day. By focusing on several Republican-leaning states, like Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, advisers said they were striving to pave several distinct routes to an Electoral College victory instead of relying on a set number of states as Democrats have in the past.

While Mr. Powell said he had no plans to campaign for Mr. Obama, he became the highest-profile Republican to add his support to the Democratic ticket. He dismissed the notion that he was supporting Mr. Obama because they are both black. He contributed $2,300 to Mr. McCain last year and said he had studied both candidates for nearly two years, but in recent weeks Mr. Obama had impressed him.

“He displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems,” Mr. 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.”

Advisers to Mr. Obama said they had no immediate plans of using Mr. Powell in campaign advertisements, but that could change over the next two weeks. Mr. Obama, who has used his large campaign treasury to buy 30-minute spots on the television networks in the final week of the race, could highlight the endorsement at that point, but aides also said they expected Mr. Powell’s words to receive plenty of attention on their own.

Mr. Powell seemed to offer a twinge of regret, saying, “It isn’t easy for me to disappoint Senator McCain in the way that I have this morning.” But he said he disagreed with the McCain campaign’s decision to raise doubts about Mr. Obama by linking him to William Ayers, an antigovernment radical from the 1960s.

“Mr. McCain says that he’s a washed-out terrorist,” Mr. Powell said. “Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?”

Still, the Republican ticket intensified its new line of attack, likening Mr. Obama’s policies to socialism. Ms. Palin, campaigning on Sunday in New Mexico, did not mention the Powell endorsement, instead deriding Mr. Obama for a comment he made last week about wanting to “spread the wealth.” She declared, “Now is no time to experiment with socialism.”

Mr. Obama, invoking Mr. Powell, offered a retort as he met with voters in North Carolina.

“Socialism?” Mr. Obama said. “It’s kind of hard to figure out how Warren Buffet endorsed me and Colin Powell endorsed me, and I’m practicing socialism. John McCain thinks that giving these Americans a break is socialism. Well, I call it opportunity.”

Mr. McCain, who mentioned Mr. Powell on Sunday only when asked about him during a television interview, noted that he had collected endorsements from four former secretaries of state and more than 200 retired Army general and admirals.



Source: New York Times

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