Sununu walks back insinuation Powell endorsement was racially motivated

Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a top surrogate for the Romney campaign, walked back on Friday his insinuation that former Secretary of State Colin Powell had endorsed President Obama because of his race.

"Colin Powell is a friend and I respect the endorsement decision he made and I do not doubt that it was based on anything but his support of the president's policies," Sununu said in a statement. "Piers Morgan's question was whether Colin Powell should leave the party, and I don't think he should."

Sununu made the comments during an interview on Morgan's CNN show Thursday night, after the host asked whether Powell should leave the Republican Party after endorsing Obama in a second consecutive election.

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"I'm not sure how important that is," replied Sununu. "Frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder if that's an endorsement based on issues, or whether he's got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama?" 

Morgan asked what reason Powell would have otherwise. 

"Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him," Sununu said. 

Powell made his endorsement earlier Thursday during an an interview with CBS News. 

"You know, I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012 and will vote for him and Vice President Joe Biden next month," Powell told CBS News. "So that's an endorsement for President Obama for reelection.

Powell also said he continued to consider himself a Republican, despite having now backed the Democratic presidential nominee for a second straight election. 

"I think I'm a Republican of a more moderate mold and that's something of a dying breed, I'm sorry to say," Powell said. "But, you know, the Republicans I work for are President Reagan, President Bush 41, [the] Howard Bakers of the world, people who were conservative, people who were willing to push their conservative views but people who recognized at the end of the day you [had] to find a basis for compromise."

On Friday, Newark mayor and top Obama surrogate Cory Booker called Sununu's comment "dumb" and "disrespectful."

“He’s got himself in a jam and he’s going to wear that jam for awhile,” Booker said, adding that the comment was “unfortunate, and we should talk about those issues and presumptions that still often exist."

But Booker said the time for that discussion was not in the last days off the presidential election, where the focus should be "on the candidates themselves, what their plans and platforms are.”

And President Obama was asked about the incident during an interview Friday with radio host Michael Smerconish.

"I'll let Gen. Powell's statement speak for themselves," Obama said. "I don't think that there are many people in America that would question Gen. Powell's credibility, his patriotism, his willingness to tell it straight, so any suggestion that Gen. Powell would make such a profound statement in such a important election based on anything but what he thought was going to be best for America doesn't make much sense."

This post was updated at 3:15 p.m.

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