Sen. Barack Obama has made the very personal decision to leave the campaign trail for two days to visit his ailing 85-year-old grandmother in Hawaii. But with 14 days left in the campaign, observers say, even the personal becomes political.
Although a candidate has never before stopped campaigning this close to Election Day, Obama's running mate and surrogates will remain on the trail, and more important, his ads will continue to run. Obama decided Monday night to cancel campaign stops on Thursday and Friday and fly to Hawaii to see his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, the woman he affectionately calls "Toot," short for the Hawaiian word "tutu" for grandparent. Dunham, who pretty much raised Obama, has been ailing lately and her brother, Charles Payne, told The Associated Press, she recently fell and broke her hip.
Obama will skip scheduled rallies in Wisconsin and Iowa. His weekend rallies have been monster events. Last weekend Obama drew 75,000 at a Kansas City rally and 100,000 at St. Louis rally later on the same day. Obama returns to the campaign trail Saturday.
Those crowds will have to wait, however, as Obama flies to see the woman that he has suggested in speeches and books was the most influential person in his life as he grew up.
"That part of me that's hardheaded, I get from her. She's tough as nails," Obama recently told ABC News' Diane Sawyer.
Leaving the campaign with only two weeks to go would appear to leave the field to his rival, Sen. John McCain, during the crucial homestretch of the presidential race. But it also has the potential of showing Obama's family side at a time when both candidates are under constant attack by their opponents.
Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, the former director of the Lincoln, Hoover, Eisenhower, Reagan and Ford presidential libraries, said, "Never in the modern era has a candidate done anything like this," referring to Obama's decision to stop campaigning during the last stretch.
"For a lot of people, this will be a defining moment," Smith said
"This can only help Obama," said Torie Clarke, an ABC News political consultant. "Everyone can understand the need to visit a sick relative. There is no doubt that this was a decision made for personal reasons, but it gives his campaign the opportunity to remind voters of his unique past and heritage."
In two memoirs, and routinely along the trail, Obama has addressed that heritage and spoken openly about his grandmother, a white woman who raised him after his Kenyan father left his family and his mother went abroad to study.
Obama invoked his grandmother in what many consider the definitive speech of his campaign, an address on race in America delivered in March in Philadelphia after weeks of being hounded for his relationship with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama made the personal political and talked about how his grandmother could both love him and at times be racist.
"I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."