Powell endorsed Obama Thursday, saying the country has "come out of the dive and we're starting to gain altitude."
John Sununu, a former governor of New Hampshire and White House chief of staff during the administration of former President George H.W. Bush, said on CNN Powell's decision was based in part on the fact that both Obama and Powell are black.
"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." Sununu told CNN's Piers Morgan -- who then asked what he meant.
"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.
Sununu issued a statement several hours later seeming to back away from the observation, Politico reported.
"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 an interview Friday with radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, Obama said, "I don't think that there are many people in America who would question General Powell's credibility, his patriotism, his willingness to tell it straight -- so any suggestion that General Powell would make such a profound statement in such an important election based on anything other than what he thought would be best for America doesn't make much sense."
Powell's endorsement of Obama drew fire from the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who said Thursday Powell damaged his legacy "by defending what is clearly the most feckless foreign policy in my lifetime."
In an interview Friday with the National Review, McCain noted Powell credited Obama with getting U.S. troops out of Iraq -- but said, "It was Colin Powell, with his testimony before the U.N. Security Council, that got us into Iraq."