WASHINGTON -- Retired Gen. Colin Powell's endorsement Sunday of Barack Obama, while coming late in the game, massively undercuts Obama's critics and undermines John McCain's selling points about being the maverick and military man the nation needs at this point in history.
"I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities -- and we have to take that into account -- as well as his substance -- he has both style and substance -- he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president," said Powell in his sweeping endorsement.
"I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world -- onto the world stage, onto the American stage -- and for that reason I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama."
There is no better voucher for Obama than Powell.
One of the nation's most popular figures, Powell, President Bush's first secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at one time was seen as potentially the first African-American president.
A Republican who comes from the moderate wing of the party, Powell is the son of Jamaican immigrants who has served in four administrations: Ronald Reagan's, George H.W. Bush's, Bill Clinton's, and under the current president.
Powell's validation of Obama, during an interview with Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Meet the Press" and comments with reporters afterward, comes as McCain and Sarah Palin are struggling to find a message that resonates as they are falling behind Obama as Election Day nears and early voting has already started.
They have been portraying Obama as risky, a friend of a terrorist, and a socialist who wants to redistribute personal wealth.
Indeed, it was the negative course of the McCain campaign -- with its recent emphasis in stump speeches, in ads and millions of robocalls to battleground states on Obama's association with Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground terrorist who is now a University of Illinois-Chicago education professor -- that led Powell to favor Obama and significantly repudiate McCain.
"I've also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Sen. McCain has taken recently, on his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about," Powell said.
"This Bill Ayers situation that's been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign. But Mr. McCain says that he's a washed-out terrorist. Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?
"And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted. What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And I think that's inappropriate."
Says GOP 'further to the right'
The GOP "Big Tent" has not been welcoming of late to moderates like Powell, and he said McCain and Palin were taking the party "further to the right."
Throughout the campaign in this post-9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan war era, Barack Hussein Obama has been denying that he is a Muslim and affirming his Christian faith. Not that McCain is saying it, said Powell, but other Republicans are calling Obama a Muslim no matter the facts. But Powell said he found the implicit religious bigotry troubling.
Said Powell powerfully, "He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, 'What if he is [a Muslim]?' Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?"
'I don't believe she's ready'
To frost the cake, Powell said he questioned McCain's judgment regarding Sarah Palin.
"I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president," Powell said.
The news came as the Obama campaign announced that he raised $150 million in September alone for the general election, more than double the month before and his best ever.
McCain, taking public financing, is limited to spending $84.1 million between the convention and Nov. 4.
What is problematical for McCain is not just the praise Powell heaped on Obama, but the scorn he piled on McCain.