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Powell Backs Obama, Blasts GOP

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to that much talked about endorsement by Colin Powell. Here's what the general said yesterday when he broke with his party and gave his support to the Democratic candidate.

General COLIN POWELL (Secretary of State): I have watched an individual who has intellectual vigor and who dives deeply into issues and approaches issues with a very, very steady hand. And so I'm confident that he will be ready to take on these challenges on January 21st.

MONTAGNE: Colin Powell endorsing Barack Obama on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday morning. Joining us now as she does every Monday is NPR news analyst, Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What does General Powell's endorsement mean to Barack Obama from your point of view? And also, to John McCain who didn't get it?

ROBERTS: Well, I will quote Newt Gingrich here, the former House Speaker Republican Strategist who said on ABC, that this puts an end to the experience argument. That it shores up Barack Obama with the Independent voters and those are the voters, Renee who we've still seen in the polls are movable. That they haven't completely settled on one candidate or another. So that having them come more securely to the Obama camp is huge. He is also using it. Obama is using the endorsement to counter the Republican accusations of socialism.

He says if I have the endorsements of Colin Powell and Warren Buffett, the financier, how could I possibly be a socialist? I think Powell also shored up some of the other Democratic arguments that you have been hearing in recent days which is that the McCain campaign has been too negative especially by its use of William Ayers association with Barack Obama. Powell underlined that he thought that that was the case that it was too negative. He said that McCain was his friend, he said that over and over but he said that, you know, he thought that the Republican Party had gone far too far to the right and that Sarah Palin is not ready to be president and Joe Biden is.

You know, Powell has complained about the Republican Party privately for a good while, but it hasn't been something he's made a public statement about. So, this is significant. The only measure we have of it is a Fox news poll that came out in August which by two-to-one voter said they would be more likely to vote for Obama if Powell endorsed them.

MONTAGNE: And Cokie, what do you make of the latest polling data?

ROBERTS: Well, I think it's probably right where it's been. I mean, every so often, you see it tightening and tightening in some states. Today the gallop tracking poll of registered voters has Obama up by 10 points, 52 to 42 but you know, as we get closer to Election Day, it is likely to tighten as voters settle. But everything is going in Barack Obama's direction. All that money, that Powell endorsement, enormous crowds in red states, 100,000 people in Missouri showing up for him and newspaper endorsements including 25 newspapers that had endorsed George Bush have now endorsed Barack Obama.

MONTAGNE: Given then all of what you've just said with two weeks to go, how does that affect the strategies of each campaign?

ROBERTS: Well in the case of the Obama campaign, I think they just keep on keeping on. It's been the most disciplined campaign I've ever seen in my life particularly most disciplined Democratic campaign. And I think he just campaigns everywhere as you just heard in Peter's piece, he's trying to stretch the map. So, he will be in Florida today for instance, trying to compete there. John McCain will be in Missouri, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire trying to, you know, hold on to those states or grab Pennsylvania.

Their families are everywhere and their running mates are going to be everywhere including Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live last Saturday giving that program the highest rating in 14 years. And the themes are tried and true. The Republicans are saying, Obama's going to raise taxes and spread the wealth, the Democrats are warning that John McCain is going to hurt your social security and Medicare, not anything we haven't heard before.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. Analysis from NPR's Cokie Roberts. 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.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.

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