Colin Powell backs Obama

Colin Powell on Sunday became the most prominent Republican to endorse Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. The former secretary of state and retired four-star general declared Obama a “transformational” figure who would “electrify our country … (and) the world.”

Powell, appearing on NBC's “Meet the Press,” said he respects McCain and considers him a friend. But he said that McCain's “unsure” response to the economic crisis and his selection of a running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom “I don't believe is ready to be president of the United States” disappointed him. He said he also was concerned by the recent negative tenor of McCain's campaign and a “narrower and narrower” Republican approach to serious national problems.

“I watched Mr. Obama,” particularly in recent weeks, Powell said, and “he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge … in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor.”

In a telephone interview Sunday, Powell said his decision had been “emerging since the conventions, when I heard the convention speeches, saw who the vice presidential candidates were and then watched the debates.”

The announcement is a blow to McCain, a fellow Vietnam War veteran whose 2000 presidential campaign Powell supported before George W. Bush won the Republican nomination.

McCain sought to shrug off the endorsement, saying that he has always “admired and respected” Powell and that it “doesn't come as a surprise.” He said that he was pleased to have the support of four other former Republican secretaries of state.

Powell, 71, served as secretary of state during President George W. Bush's first term, but most of the power of his endorsement comes from his 35-year military career, during which he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and earlier as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan.