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Powell challenges fellow Republicans on race, education

Retired Gen. Colin Powell challenged his fellow Republicans Monday to make a renewed and lasting commitment to inclusiveness and helping poorer Americans.  

Retired general critiques GOP on affirmative action

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- In a speech billed as one of the highlights of this year's Republican National Convention, retired Gen. Colin Powell Monday night challenged his party to make a renewed and lasting commitment to inclusiveness, education, and helping poor Americans.

"With all the success we have enjoyed and with all the wealth we have created, we have much more work to do and a long way to go to bring the promise of America to every single American," Powell said.

Powell's speech capped the frenzied, made-for-television first day of activity at Philadelphia's Comcast First Union Center, where jubilant Republicans breezed through convention business in the opening day session and welcomed a host of speakers under the theme, "Opportunity With a Purpose: Leave No Child Behind."

Laura Bush speaks to the Republican National Convention - part 1 (July 31)

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Laura Bush speaks to the Republican National Convention - part 2 (July 31)

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Colin Powell speaks to the Republican National Convention - Part 1

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Colin Powell speaks to the Republican National Convention - Part 2

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CNN's Bernard Shaw takes a closer look a the life of Laura Bush

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During his address, the hero of the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf focused the brunt of his remarks on volunteerism and education policy, insisting that all-but-crowned Republican nominee George W. Bush was the sole candidate to offer a presidential agenda that would fulfill that pledge regardless of race, religion or economic background.

"He increased state funding for education by $8 billion; he put new textbooks in every school in the state of Texas; he strengthened standardized testing in all Texas public schools; and he insisted on teacher competency and expanded the charter school movement," Powell told the cheering crowd. "In pursuing education reform, as well as in all other parts of his agenda for Texas, Gov. Bush has reached out to all Texans -- white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American."

But nearly 150 years after Republicans gathered in the same city for their first national convention, he insisted the party must once again "earn the mantle of Lincoln," and "must always be a party of inclusion."

"The issue of race still casts a shadow over our society, despite the impressive progress we have made over the last 40 years to overcome this legacy of our troubled past that is still with us," Powell said.

Powell: Bush can 'bridge racial differences'

Powell praised Bush's decision to speak before the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and told the GOP gathering that it will take hard work for the party of Lincoln to again earn the trust of African-American voters.

"We must understand the cynicism that exists in the black community ... created when, for example, some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education, but hardly a whimper is heard from them over affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax codes with preferences for special interests," he said.

Although he has differed with many in his party -- including Bush -- over his position in favor of abortion rights and some affirmative action measures, Powell said Bush was the party's best hope to build ties to minority voters.

"He will bring to the White House that same passion for inclusion. I know he can help bridge our racial divides," added Powell, the only African-American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Colin Powell told the Republican National Convention that George W. Bush would help bridge racial divides as president.  

Convention planners are hoping Powell's appearance before the Republican gathering will help the Texas governor appeal to moderate voters in battleground states where he's neck-and-neck in the polls with Vice President Al Gore.

Powell, who retired as a four-star general in 1993, has served under five presidential administrations: Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, the later two as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He remains an enormously popular figure with both conservative Republicans and most of the American public who remember his calm and dignified leadership style during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Banking on that popularity, he also issued a challenge for the Republican Party to do more to address the needs of the poorest Americans. "The world is watching to see if all this power and wealth is just for the well-to-do, the comfortable, the privileged," he said.

Bush hints at future role for Powell

Since 1997, Powell has chaired America's Promise, a non-profit volunteering and mentoring program for youth that grew out his chairmanship of President Clinton's 1997 Summit for America's Future.

He has frequently rebuffed overtures from GOP leaders to mount his own bid for the White House, and also addressed the 1996 Republican Convention in San Diego, delivering a speech insisting that "the Republican Party must always be a party of inclusion."

'We Love Powell' sign
Many of those in attendance at the Republican National Convention Monday showed their support for Colin Powell.  

He also has steadfastly refused to consider accepting a spot on this year's GOP ticket as Bush's running mate, Powell has hinted that he would be willing to accept a Cabinet position in a potential Republican administration, as has often been mentioned as a possible secretary of state or defense.

During Bush's introduction -- sandwiched between his wife Laura Bush's speech on literacy and Powell's education address -- the GOP presidential candidate hinted of a prominent Cabinet role for Powell if Republicans are successful in November.

"Gen. Powell served as Ronald Reagan's national security advisor and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush. And I hope his greatest service might still lie ahead," said Bush, addressing the convention via satellite from the campaign stump in Ohio.

In turn, Powell heaped praise upon the Texas governor, saying he is someone "who doesn’t just talk about reform, he reforms." He also reserved kind words for presumptive vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney, the former defense secretary under whom Powell served during the Bush Administration.

"I'm very pleased to be here with my old boss, Dick Cheney," Powell said. "I used to call him Mr. Secretary, and soon I'll be calling him Mr. Vice President. I like that."

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