UPDATED: Moments after Gov. Pat McCrory left the stage, former Secretary of State Colin Powell took aim at North Carolina's new voting law Thursday, saying it hurts the Republican Party, punishes minority voters and makes it more difficult for everyone to vote.
"I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote," said Powell, a Republican, at the CEO Forum in Raleigh.
"It immediately turns off a voting block the Republican Party needs," Powell continued. "These kinds of actions do not build on the base. It just turns people away."
The retired general served as the keynote speaker at the event and made his remarks moments after McCrory finished his remarks. His comments represent the most high-profile criticism of the Republican-crafted law that requires voters to show photo identification at the polls, cuts early voting days and makes it harder for students to vote.
In one comment, he seemed to rebuke McCrory for suggesting that voter fraud likely exists but is hard to detect. The governor had compared it to insider trading.
"You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud," Powell said. "How can it be widespread and undetected?"
Powell, who served under President George W. Bush, also said the new sends the wrong message to minority voters. "What it really says to the minority voters is ... 'We really are sort-of punishing you,'" he said.
McCrory delivered the event's opening remarks and preceded Powell, but didn't address the election law directly. McCrory stayed for part of Powell's speech but not long enough to hear the voter ID remarks, a governor's office spokeswoman said.
Instead, he focused on the role of community colleges in education and job training. "Education is our greatest challenge. There's a disconnect between what we're teaching and what employers need. What I'm trying to do is bring commerce and education together."
Powell also blamed the political impasse in Washington on the Internet, cable TV and extremist advocacy groups. And he defended the liberal arts as a discipline that gives people as sense of their place in the world -- another line that hits at McCrory.
--John Murawski and John Frank, staff writers