Sunday, October 19, 2008

Powell Endorsement Mainstreams Obama

Colin Powell has endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency (see Hot Air):

There's tremendous importance to Powell's move, and folks can sort though the former secretary of state's possible motivations. The main political implication is to give Obama considerable legitimacy where he needs it most: in foreign affairs. As Chris Cillizza notes:

Powell’s endorsement complicates any attempt by John McCain and others within the Republican Party to cast Obama as naive on world affairs and unready to lead in a dangerous time. Obama now has a ready retort: “Well, Colin Powell seems to trust my judgment; that’s why he endorsed me.”
Mark Halperin adds this:

Powell is a brand unto himself in American politics, and clearly transcends the media's tendency to hype endorsements more than their actual importance to voters....

He is so trusted for his judgment on national security (even in the wake of his role in the current Iraq War) that his confidence in Obama to become commander-in-chief will resonate with many elites and voters. The Democrats' ability to play the Powell card for the next two weeks makes it much harder, even if there is an unexpected international crisis, for Republicans to suggest Obama simply isn't qualified to protect the country.
Even deeper than this is the question of race and culture: Colin Powell was a favorite for the GOP nomination in 1996, and during the first Bush administration he was more popular than any other figure at the White House.

If there's someone who personifies mainstream values, it's Colin Powell. He's the non-threatening black that Americans long for. It's not unlikely that we would have had similar race-baiting smear campaigns in the event of a Powell presidential run, but the former secretary of state's history as a soldier and public servant in previous presidential administrations would have made any attempt to "otherize" him positively ludicrous.

That's not the case with Barack Obama. At this point in the campaign, the opportunity for the Illinois Senator to roll the Powell endorsement off his lips is the most important mainstreaming push he could possibly have gotten. With the huge round of newspaper endorsements now lining up behind the Democratic nominee, it's going to be very difficult for John McCain to consolidate his recent improvements in the polls over the next few days.

Other than this, only time will tell how this election will end up. We have less than three weeks to go, and it's going to be close. The Powell endorsement is the kind of late variable that could make a difference.