Romney adviser reverses after playing race card

JOHN SUNUNU, the former governor of New Hampshire and co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, yesterday appeared to …

JOHN SUNUNU, the former governor of New Hampshire and co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, yesterday appeared to resile from comments that cited President Barack Obama’s race as a factor in the election.

In a blow to Mr Romney, the Republican former secretary of state and retired four-star general Colin Powell had endorsed Mr Obama on Thursday morning.

Mr Sununu fed the Republican subtext that Mr Obama was elected only because he is black by telling Piers Morgan on CNN that Mr Powell endorsed him because they are both African American.

Asked why he thought Mr Powell endorsed Mr Obama, Mr Sununu replied: “Frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.” Mr Morgan asked Mr Sununu to explain what he meant. “Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the US,” Mr Sununu said. “I applaud Colin for standing with him.” Several commentators asked if Mr Sununu endorsed Mr Romney because he is white.

In a seeming retraction, Mr Sununu told the conservative National Review Online early yesterday: “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.” Also on Thursday, Mr Sununu told Fox News that Mr Obama “has created more racial division than any administration in history.” The Washington Post reported yesterday that this was the most racially polarised campaign in a quarter century.

In 2008, the Republican candidate John McCain won the white vote by 12 percentage points. Mr Romney now leads Mr Obama by 23 points among white voters, at 60 to 37 per cent.

Statements by Mr Powell in an interview with CBS could damage Mr Romney. He praised Mr Obama, saying he “saw the president get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war and . . . not get us into any new wars”. He called Mr Romney’s foreign policy “a moving target”, in particular with regard to Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr Powell also said he “has some trouble with . . . some very, very strong neo-conservative views that are presented by the governor”.

Yesterday’s report by the department of commerce that the US economy grew 2 per cent in the third quarter immediately became a political football. Mr Obama’s campaign vaunted “the 13th straight quarter of growth” as “more evidence that our economy continues to come back from the worst recession since the Great Depression”. Campaigning in Iowa, Mr Romney used the report as ammunition against Obama. “Today, we received the latest round of discouraging economic news,” he said. “Last quarter, our economy grew at just 2 per cent. After the stimulus was passed, the White House promised the economy would now be growing at 4.3 per cent.”

The only new thing in what Mr Romney’s campaign had billed as a “major address on the economy” was his admission that it would take 4 per cent economic growth to fulfil his promise of creating 12 million new jobs.