Barack Obama basked in the coveted endorsement of the former secretary of state Colin Powell and amassed a record cash haul in a blow to Republican rival John McCain. Addressing a carnival-like rally of more than 10,000 supporters in the Fayetteville area of North Carolina, Mr Obama, 47, said he was "beyond honoured and deeply humbled to have the support of General Colin Powell". "This morning, a great soldier, a great statesman, a great American has endorsed our campaign to change America," said Mr Obama."And he knows, as we do, that this is a moment where we all need to come together as one nation - young and old, rich and poor, black, white, Hispanic, native American, Republican and Democrat."
Mr Powell, on the NBC program Meet the Press, said Mr Obama had "met the standard" to be commander-in-chief "because of his ability to inspire" all ages, ethnic groups and political persuasions. Mr Powell, a Republican who made history twice as the first black secretary of state and first African-American chief of the US military, hailed Mr Obama as a potential "transformational president" and criticised Mr McCain's campaign.
Mr McCain remained a friend, Mr Powell said, before launching a hard-hitting critique of the Republican's rightward lurch, his haphazard response to the US economic crisis and his choice of Sarah Palin as vice presidential nominee. Mr Powell said that Mr Obama, in contrast, had emerged looking presidential with a "steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge" in his approach to the financial tumult.
He added that victory by the mixed-race Mr Obama in two weeks would make all Americans "proud," not just African-Americans, and would "electrify the world". Mr Powell, who was George W Bush's first chief diplomat, carries the burden of his role in promoting the Iraq invasion. But his endorsement was still a stinging rebuff to Mr McCain, 72, and could help sway swing voters and military veterans.
His backing came as the Obama campaign announced a fund-raising take of more than $150 million last month, demolishing its previous record of $66m set in August. The gigantic treasure trove is enabling Mr Obama, who enjoyed a 10-point lead in yesterday's Gallup tracking poll, to hit Mr McCain even harder with a nationwide advertising blitz in the days leading up to the November 4 election.