WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Oct. 21, 2008 -- Barack Obama is canceling campaign events scheduled for Thursday in Madison, Wis., and Des Moines, Iowa, and flying to Hawaii because his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, 85, has taken ill, his campaign has announced.
On Sunday evening, the Illinois senator spoke to his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is visiting their grandmother in Hawaii. After that call, Obama decided to visit the woman who helped raise him.
During a flight from Orlando to West Palm Beach, Fla., Monday evening, senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs told reporters that the grandmother's health had taken a turn for the worse, requiring Obama to leave the campaign trail for two days. He will return from Hawaii late Friday evening or early Saturday morning.
"Sen. Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has always been one of the most important people in his life, along with his mother and grandfather," Gibbs said, reading a statement. "She raised him in Hawaii from the time he was born until the moment he left for college. As he said at the Democratic convention, she poured everything she had into him. Recently his grandmother has become ill and in the last few weeks her health has deteriorated to the point where her situation is very serious. It is for that reason that Sen. Obama has decided to change his schedule on Thursday and Friday so that he can see her and spend some time with her. He will be returning to the campaign trail on Saturday."
Gibbs later told "Good Morning America" today that Obama's strategists know the detour "comes at a cost on the campaign trail, but Sen. Obama believes his family comes first."
"She has meant the world to Barack Obama. She has poured everything she had into raising him and making him into the person that he is today," Gibbs told "GMA." "He just feels it's tremendously important that he get down there and spend time with her, as she's very sick."
The campaign of Sen. John McCain, his Republican rival, expressed sympathy for Obama.
"It's easy to forget that these are families running for president," McCain spokeswoman Nicole Wallace told "GMA." "Everyone's thoughts and prayers are with them. Certainly, Sen. McCain has Sen. Obama and his grandmother in his thoughts."
A new Thursday morning event in Indianapolis, Ind., has been added, after which Obama will fly to Honolulu. He is scheduled to arrive in the 50th state late Thursday. He will spend much of Friday with his grandmother in her apartment in Oahu, the same apartment building where a young Obama lived while attending high school nearby.
Gibbs would not provide details about Dunham's illness except to say that, with approximately two weeks to go until Election Day, "the decision that Sen. Obama is going to Hawaii, I think, underscores the seriousness of the situation."
Obama, in the past, has said that his grandmother suffers from osteoporosis, has a bad back and is going blind. Regardless of his grandmother's physical conditions, Obama still describes her as "smart as a tack" and jokes that she's "glued to CNN."
Obama, along with his wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia and Sasha, last saw his grandmother in Hawaii in August with daily visits confined to her apartment because Dunham was too frail.
Obama then, acutely aware of her health, suggested that it was important for his children to spend time with their great-grandmother given her advanced years.
"I'm going to see my grandma who I haven't seen in almost 18-19 months," he said the day before the family took off for their vacation, "and, you know, who's getting to the age where I want to make sure that I'm spending time with her on a consistent basis and so that she could see her great-grandchildren. "
Obama's wife and daughters will not be joining him on this trip. Instead his wife will be taking his place on the campaign trail, holding events solo in Akron and Columbus, Ohio, Friday.
Gibbs said that the campaign would continue in Obama's absence. Obama will resume his campaign with a Western state swing starting Saturday.