Updated at 11:04 am EDT
John Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire and a co-chairman of Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign for president, says he does “not doubt” the motive of retired Army Gen. Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Barack Obama.
He issued a statement to that effect at National Review Online after midnight, after questioning Powell’s motivation in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN last night.
“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 brief comment posted at the NRO Web site. “Piers Morgan’s question was whether Colin Powell should leave the party, and I don’t think he should.”
Whatever his stance, Sununu’s comments ignited a conversation on Twitter injecting the question of race into the presidential election campaign at a critical juncture, with Obama and Romney battling for support in a few crucial swing states, including New Hampshire.
“If John Sununu thinks Colin Powell endorsed Obama because of he is black, is it fair to assume Sununu endorsed Romney because he is white?” wrote a popular Twitter user, @WillMcAvoyACN, who parodies the news anchor on HBO’s “The Newsroom.” The tweet has been retweeted at least 1,420 times.
Ian Milhiser writes at Think Progress, with tongue firmly planted: “For the record, John Sununu is an intelligent and accomplished white man. He has also decided to endorse Mitt Romney, who is white, over Barack Obama, who is black. No one believes that Sununu made this decision for any reason other than the fact that he prefers Romney’s policies to Obama’s, and it would be absolutely inappropriate to suggest that Sununu joined the Romney campaign because he wanted a president of his same race.”
Amanda Henneberg, spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, said today of Sununu’s remark on CNN: “His comment did not reflect the views of the campaign, and he was right to clarify it.”
Morgan asked the former New Hampshire governor about Powell‘s recent endorsement of the incumbent: “Colin Powell has decided to opt for President Obama again, despite apparently still being a Republican. Is it time he left the party?”
“I’m not sure how important that is,” replied the 73-year-old adviser to Romney. “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?”
“What reason would that be?” Morgan asked.
“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 of the former secretary of state for President George W. Bush and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff for President George H.W. Bush.
Powell, appearing on CBS “This Morning” this week, noted that he had supported Obama over Sen. John McCain in 2008 and plans to stay with “the patrol” this time around.
Margaret Talev contributed to this report.