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How Far Will Obama's Kansas Roots Get Him?

El Dorado, Kansas--

Pic: Sen. Barack Obama's maternal grandfather lived in El Dorado, Kansas.
As Election Day approaches in El Dorado, Kansas, it's evident that this always solidly Republican... Expand
(ABC News)

Though Barack Obama came here, he didn't quite conquer. The town that was home for several years to Obama's maternal -- and white -- grandfather enjoyed a brief moment in the limelight earlier in this campaign season, when the Democratic candidate spent part of a day here highlighting his connections with the community.

But with Election Day near at hand and things settled down in El Dorado, it's appears that this always solidly Republican community will go, once again, to the Republican candidate for president. "Nightline" visited the town as part of ABC News' "50 States in 50 Days" series.

Watch the story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

Republican Mike Cooper was unimpressed by Obama and did not attend his rally last winter. "I felt he wasn't the candidate for me and it wasn't worth my time," explained Cooper, who works in a farm equipment dealership. "And honestly I had several customers that I had talked with who lived in the area and three or four of them said anybody with the name Barack Hussein Obama shouldn't even be here."

El Dorado attorney and Republican Steven Funk predicts at least a 55 to 45 victory margin for McCain in the area. After suggesting that Obama had "exploited" his family ties here, he accused Obama of later calling "his white grandmother a racist." Funk is referring to a speech on race Obama delivered not long after his El Dorado visit, in which he acknowledged that his grandmother had used racial slurs.

Says Funk: Obama "pretty much threw her under the bus and I think that was regrettable statement on his part, [and] probably did not reflect her views or the views of people who live here either today or 40 or 50 years ago when she lived here."

Funk does agree Obama's visit "was a positive thing for the community" in the sense that it was a good civic experience, but says that "nobody's going to vote for Senator Obama because his grandmother's from El Dorado, they're going to vote for him because either they want the change he promises or they don't want to vote for John McCain."

But at least one Republican mind was changed. Sally Hargrove, who says she's never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in her life, says it made all the difference that she met Obama in person, when he dropped in a local restaurant named Susie's Chili Parlor. "All of a sudden I thought this guy is just amazing, he just kept on talking to me," Hargrove said. "I think my heart changed that day."

With a population of just over 12,000, El Dorado is too small a town for polling. But you cannot find anyone -- Republican or Democrat -- willing to predict anything but a McCain win here. Even the most optimistic of Democrats, like Eden Fuson, Butler County Democratic Party Chair and Obama volunteer, goes no father than saying "hopefully this election we can turn purple" -- meaning she hopes the vote won't be quite the Republican landslide in this state that it was last time, when George Bush beat John Kerry by more than 2 to 1.

Susie Gillis, meanwhile, proprietor of the Chili Parlor, keeps a handful of snapshots ready to show visitors who ask about Obama's visit to her place. She says she could, of course, put them on the wall with some other memorabilia she displays there. But she says she's waiting with those photos, to see if he wins the White House. "Then we'll hang them on the wall," she says.

It just might happen, but not because El Dorado had anything to do with it.

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