Obama leaving campaign trail to visit ill grandmother

Sen. Barack Obama will cancel his presidential campaign stops and return here Thursday and Friday to visit his maternal grandmother who raised him, the woman he calls "Toot," whose health has suddenly deteriorated.

Madelyn Dunham, 85, recently had to be hospitalized after a fall, and "things have taken a serious turn," said Obama supporter Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii. "It's an accumulation of several difficulties. She's faced a lot of challenges.

"Things have taken a serious enough turn for Sen. Obama to come home," Abercrombie said. "It's his family. Everyone understands what's going on. The campaign is secondary. The campaign has its own velocity, its own trajectory."

Dunham has already voted for Obama through absentee balloting, "which she was very happy about," Abercrombie said. "She's very, very strong-willed. We have every confidence she's putting up a good struggle. Obviously, we wish Sen. Obama was coming back home under a little bit different circumstance. But any time in Hawaii will strengthen his resolve."

After her hospitalization, Dunham last week returned to the Beretania Street apartment where she raised Obama.

Obama regularly speaks about the important role that Dunham plays in his life. During an August family vacation in Honolulu, Obama told reporters that his grandmother was "sharp as a tack" but is struggling with osteoporosis that limits her mobility.

"She is somebody who helped raise me, and she's the last person of the generation ahead of me who's still living, so it means a lot to me to spend time with her," he said.

Obama grew up calling Dunham "Toot," short for "tutu," the local word for grandparent. Her osteoporosis prevented Dunham from joining Obama on the campaign trail, but she does appear in a campaign video.

Obama's decision to cancel campaign stops comes just two weeks before the Nov. 4 presidential election.

"His suspension of his campaign is indicative of his strong affection and love for his grandmother," said state Sen. Clayton Hee, D-23rd, (Kane'ohe, Kahuku), an early Obama supporter. "The circumstances obviously are very different from the vacation he took in the summer, no question about that. If there are people who think this is some kind of campaign ploy, it's a statement that says more about them than Sen. Obama. Anytime someone is seriously ill, it's a time for prayer and a time for privacy. I would expect that local people will rally silently and spiritually to support him at this time."

Somber trip home

This week's unexpected trip to visit Obama's grandmother will carry a decidedly different tone than the week-long family vacation that Obama spent in August after he clinched the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Pictures circulated around the world of Obama bodysurfing at Sandy Beach, sharing shaved ice with his two daughters in Kailua and dropping a lei at Halona Blowhole — the same spot where he scattered his mother's ashes after her death from cancer in 1995.

During their vacation, Obama and his family visited Dunham at her apartment nearly every day. On the sixth day, Obama also left a lei at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, where Obama's maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham — a World War II veteran — is buried.

State tourism officials, at the time, said Obama's Hawaii vacation generated priceless publicity for the Islands as Hawaii's No. 1 industry — tourism — continued to stagnate.

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