Last updated: October 26, 2012 5:29 pm

Romney backer sparks race controversy

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A leading supporter of Mitt Romney has suggested that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama because both men were the same race.

The comment threatened to create new controversy for the Republican campaign only days before the US presidential election.

Asked about Mr Powell’s endorsement of the US president, John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire, told Piers Morgan on CNN on Thursday: “When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to look at whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or he’s got a slightly different reason for endorsing President Obama.”

Pressed to elaborate, he added: “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.”

Mr Powell was the first black US secretary of state and served under George W. Bush, the former Republican president. He previously served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

His endorsement of Mr Obama on Thursday came four years after he endorsed the Democrat in his first presidential run. Mr Powell praised Mr Obama’s record and questioned whether Mr Romney had “thought through” his positions on foreign policy.

The comment was the latest controversial remark made by Mr Sununu. In July, he said Mr Obama had to “learn to be an American”, saying the president had no idea how the American “system” functioned because “he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something [and] spent another set of years in Indonesia.”

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The remark was a reference to Mr Obama’s drug use as a teenager – a fact the president has acknowledged.

Asked for a comment, the Romney campaign released a statement from Mr Sununu hours after the remark aired in which the former governor said that Mr Powell was a friend and that he respected his endorsement of Mr Obama.

“I do not doubt that it was based on anything but his support of the president’s policies,” said Mr Sununu.

The statement came as the Romney campaign has faced scrutiny from Democrats, and some Republicans, over a controversial remark regarding abortion and rape by a Republican Senate candidate in Indiana who Mr Romney has endorsed.

Two Republicans – John McCain and Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor – expressed strong disapproval of Richard Mourdock, who this week said that when a woman become pregnant as the result of rape it was what “God intended”.

While the Obama campaign has relentlessly pushed the Romney campaign for not distancing itself from Mr Mourdock – even though Mr Romney did say he disagreed with Mr Mourdock’s statement – the Democratic campaign did not release any statement immediately following the CNN interview with Mr Sununu.

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