I can't say I'm surprised at all, but this is good news for the Obama campaign. It's probably more damaging to the McCain side than helpful to the Obama side, as it represents yet another repudiation of the Bush-Cheney years. Powell is largely seen as a tragic figure (at best) of the Iraq War, or a complete tool (at worst). In any case, if he is ever to regain his heroic image in America, this is an important step.
What Powell does that really helps is denounce the McCain-Palin slime machine, the endless bigotry and racism and paranoia. He calls them out by name. He also calls out Palin for being so unqualified, which is plainly obvious to everyone but the diehard GOP scene. This is crucial ammo for the Obama side. Score another point for Colin Powell.
Best part: what's so wrong with being Muslim? This is not America. Good for you, General. He sees prejudice for what it is, having lived it and overcome it himself. We need an end to this McCarthy-ist madness.
For many, Colin Powell remains a beloved and respected figure in American politics. We may forget that for many years, he was the voter's favorite choice for President. He could have become our nation's first African-American President; he just had to give the word. For many Americans, this will be a pivotal endorsement, especially among former Republicans and Independents. His statements strike at everything that has gone wrong in the McCain campaign; in five minutes, he explains the case, very easily, why John McCain is not qualified to sit in the White House, and Obama is.
I don't know if I can forgive Colin Powell for going along with the Iraq War. He knew the whole thing was a fraud all along. He knew the WMD's were a fraud. But he went along, playing the good soldier. And we now know the consequences for his actions. That is a cross he must bear for the rest of his days. His endorsement of Barack Obama is one important, crucial, step forward, out of his self-made Purgatory.