Why Powell Did It

By Jennifer Parker

Oct 20, 2008 7:49am

Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama is huge.

This wasn’t just an endorsement of Barack Obama. This was a rejection of John McCain, President George W. Bush, and the party they represent.

People close to Powell and Obama tell ABC News that Powell met with both McCain and Obama early in the summer and he told them both that his endorsement would depend on the conduct of the campaign, the conventions, the debates, and their choice of vice president.

Powell didn’t speak to McCain again after that meeting. Obama followed up several times with phone calls to Powell and they spoke about foreign policy, national security, and domestic issues like education.

Obama courted Powell, but what helped to push Obama over the edge was the conduct of McCain’s campaign and McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running-mate.

Powell, a four-star general, was also a bit rankled that McCain’s team leaked the idea that the GOP candidate was perhaps considering Powell for vice-president, sources tell ABC News.

During his endorsement of Obama, Powell went out of his way to say that we need a president like Obama who would transform Bush’s unilateral foreign policy. Powell took a direct hit on McCain’s judgment by saying he picked a vice presidential candidate who wasn’t ready to be president.

He absolutely repudiated the conduct of McCain’s campaign by saying that bringing up former 1960′s radical Bill Ayers is not a legitimate campaign issue in any way.

His endorsement is a real signal to moderate Republicans and independents that Barack Obama is okay. As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said on "This Week" yesterday, Powell’s endorsement pretty much eliminates the experience argument for people who are worried about Obama.

The bottom line? Powell really wanted to make sure that this endorsement mattered. It was very direct and very cutting.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll suggests that Powell’s views are in line with the American public.

Palin has proved to be a drag on the Republican ticket with 52 percent of voters saying they are less confident in McCain because he chose Palin as his running-mate.

The latest ABC/Post poll found 60 percent of voters believe the McCain campaign’s Ayers attack is not a legitimate issue. The most optimistic person almost always wins in presidential races.

The poll found that 57 percent of independent voters say Obama is the more optimistic candidate, while 31 percent say that about McCain.

–George Stephanopoulos

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