Former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced on Sunday that he is supporting Democrat Barack Obama for president, calling him "a transformational figure" and citing his campaign's "inclusive nature."
"He is a new generation coming onto the world stage — onto the American stage," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And for that reason, I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama."
Powell — a Republican who served as Secretary of State under George W. Bush from 2001-2005 — said that he's been concerned in recent weeks not only by the direction of his own party, but by the decision made by Republican candidate John McCain's campaign to go negative, attempting to link Obama to former 1960s radical William Ayers.
"I think that's inappropriate. I understand what politics is about — I know how you can go after one another, and that's good. But I think this goes too far, and I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow," Powell said. "It's not what the American people are looking for."
Powell also took issue with the McCain campaign's proliferation of the rumor that Obama is Muslim.
"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian," Powell said. "But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president?"
The possibility of Powell's endorsement had been rumored for several months. In August, several media outlets reported that the retired general would make an appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, but his office denied those reports.
Powell also said on the show that he considered each candidate's handling of the financial crisis to be the "final exam" and that he found McCain to be "unsteady" in his actions, while noting that Obama excelled.
"Obama displayed a steadiness and intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge," Powell said. "He has met the standard of being a successful president, [of] being an exceptional president."
Obama acknowledged Powell's support at a campaign stop in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Sunday, calling him "a great soldier, a great statesman and a great American" and saying he was "honored and deeply humbled" to have his support.
Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, added that the two spoke briefly over the phone that day and that Obama was looking forward to taking advantage of Powell's advice in the next two weeks, "and hopefully over the next four years."
Powell said that he has met with both candidates during the campaign and that he has a lot of respect for McCain, adding that he believes both candidates are qualified to be president.
"It isn't easy for me to disappoint Senator McCain in the way I have this morning, and I regret that," Powell said.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, McCain reacted to the news by saying that he respects and admires Powell, but that the announcement of his support for Obama "doesn't come as a surprise."
Get informed! Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election, including everything from the latest news on the candidates to on-the-ground multimedia reports from our 51 citizen journalists, MTV and MySpace's Presidential Dialogues, and much more.