Exclusive: Obama Explains Why His Campaign Will Wait for 'Toot'

Candidate tells ABC News why his presidential campaign will have to wait.

Oct. 24, 2008 — -- Barack Obama is home today in Hawaii with his ailing grandmother rather than on the campaign trail because he fears she won't make it to Election Day.

Obama, who polls show is the front-runner in the election to become the leader of the free world, is likely doing chores right now for the woman he affectionately calls Toot.

"I want to give her a kiss and a hug," the Democratic presidential candidate told Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview for "Good Morning America" before heading for Hawaii to see his 85-year-old grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, the woman who largely raised him.

"And then we're going to find out what chores I can do, because I'm sure there's been some stuff that's been left undone," he said.

The Illinois senator took the unprecedented step of quitting the presidential campaign with less than two weeks to go so he could hurry home to the apartment he grew up in and see Dunhill. He rejoins the campaign Saturday.

Toot, which is short for "tutu," the Hawaiian word for grandparent, has been sick for a while and recently fell and broke her hip.

"Without going through the details too much, she's gravely ill," Obama told Roberts in an interview that aired today on "GMA."

Besides the hip, Obama said, "She had some other problems that were getting worse. You know, we weren't sure, and I'm still not sure, whether she makes it to Election Day.

"We're all praying and we hope she does," he said.

His grandmother's illness has turned Obama's stretch run for the White House into a bittersweet moment. He is leading John McCain, in most polls, yet also faces the possible loss of the most influential person in his life while he was growing up.

"One of the things I want to make sure of is that I had a chance to sit down with her and talk to her," Obama told Roberts. "She's still alert and she's still got all her faculties. And I want to make sure that I don't miss that opportunity right now."

Obama has also said publicly that he regrets not returning to his mother's bedside before she died of cancer, as he overestimated how much time she had to live, and he doesn't want to make the same mistake twice.

Obama Mentions Grandmother in Health Care Policy

Obama's grandmother was a high school graduate and a real-life "Rosie the Riveter" during World War II -- building airplanes and taking care of a newborn baby while Obama's grandfather was a soldier in Gen. George Patton's Army.

"She is a tough person. She actually is where I think I get some of my strength and grit and determination," Obama told Roberts.

After the war, Dunham joined a bank's secretarial pool and rose to become a vice president. She also took care of Obama after his Kenyan father abandoned the family and his mother was studying overseas.

"She really was the financial rock for our family," Obama said. "She's a remarkable woman."

He has also pointed out that his grandmother had traces of racism in her, a point Obama made earlier in the campaign when he tried to explain the caustic language used by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama recalled how his beloved grandmother would sometimes make comments about black men on the street because she was afraid of them.

News of her illness has resulted in Dunham being "inundated" with phone calls, e-mails and flowers from "total strangers" who are wishing her well, Obama said.

"And so, maybe she is getting a sense of long-deserved recognition toward the end of her life," Obama said.

Ever the presidential candidate, Obama invoked his grandmother when talking about issues in the campaign.

When asked by Roberts about his plans for health care, Obama said, "I think about my grandmother right now. But, you know, there are a lot of younger people who, in her same circumstances, don't end up having health insurance. Sometimes their kids don't have health insurance."

He also dismissed McCain's latest attack that Obama "will say anything to get elected." McCain was referring to Obama's alleged shift in his plan for who would be eligible for tax cuts.

"I think it's fair to say that if you look at the quality of our campaign and theirs," he said, "who's been more civil, who's talked about the issues, as opposed to trying to attack peoples' character, I think we get a pretty good grade."

Grandma, at least, would approve.