From NBC's Libby Leist
Colin Powell, the first African-American Secretary of State, said this afternoon that electing an African-American US president would be "electrifying" for the world, but he said he still remains undecided between McCain and Obama.
Appearing today at George Washington University with four other former US Secretaries of State -- Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Henry Kissinger -- Powell and the panel were asked by a student whether they thought America electing Obama president would send a more powerful image overseas than John McCain.
Baker and Albright spoke first and said they both thought it would be significant, but Baker noted he was still voting Republican. "I think electing the first African-American president would send a powerful message not just abroad but in this country as well. Having said that I have, of course, endorsed Sen. McCain," Baker said to much laughter.
Albright followed up and got a huge round of applause from the college audience for her presidential choice. "I think it would send a huge message in terms of what America stands for and in terms of diversity and potential. And I, of course, am supporting Sen. Obama," she said.
Then came Powell. "[T]o send that kind of a message, I think would be electrifying," he said, "but at the same time, we have to make a judgment here ... which of the candidates blends a right measure of experience and judgment? I have been watching both of these individuals, and I know them both extremely well and I have not decided who I'm going to vote for yet."
Powell said he wants to watch the debates, look at the party platforms, and focus on substance. "We've got to get off this lipstick on a pig stuff," he said to loud applause.
When one of the moderators asked Powell whether this vote was personal to him since he was the first African-American Secretary of State, his answer sparked wild applause. "I'm an American first and foremost," he said.
Powell explained to the audience that he told McCain he would not vote for him just because they have been friends for 25 years, and he told Obama he would not vote for him just because he is black. He said he will look at who has the best economic policies, who inspires the most confidence in the country and around the world, and who will keep America safe.
The 90-minute forum, to air next weekend on CNN, focused on the full range of foreign policy issues that will confront McCain or Obama: Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Middle East peace, Africa, climate change, and torture.
There was bipartisan consensus from the Secretaries of State that the next President needs to work to restore America's image and influence in the world and recapture American power, after eight years of an unpopular George W. Bush.
Some of the advice for President McCain or President Obama on how American can restore world confidence: close Guantanamo Bay, outlaw torture, engage Iran, and take the lead on climate change with a new US policy.
In the afternoon's only reference to GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin, the Secretaries of State were asked if they were in consensus that human beings are contributing to global warming. Albright drew laughter and applause when she quipped that there was consensus "except in Alaska." It was obviously a reference to previous statements Palin has made questioning whether human activity plays a role in global warming.
The event was organized by CNN, George Washington University, Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and the Center for New American Security.