Barack Obama is leaving the campaign trail for two days to visit his ailing grandmother. (Photo: AP)
Visit to ill grandmother next for Obama.
Democrat Barack Obama swept through Virginia yesterday trying to overturn nearly half a century of presidential history, continuing a march through red-state America before taking an unprecedented break from the campaign trail to visit the ailing grandmother who helped raise him.
With an ear-splitting rally in the Richmond coliseum and a late-afternoon speech at a chilly park in Leesburg, Obama promised to deliver the Commonwealth in the Democratic column for the first time since 1964.
"I feel like we've got a righteous wind at our backs," Obama told tens of thousands gathered on the rolling hills of Ida Lee Park. It was his eighth day of campaigning in the state since securing the Democratic nomination in June.
He was joined by two Democrats who helped revive the party in Virginia, former governor and Senate candidate Mark R. Warner and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.
They presented Obama as a pragmatic "unifier" who would fix a broken government in Washington, the same kind of message that has led to Democratic success in the state.
"We need a president who will look at any good idea, doesn't matter whether it's got a "D" or an "R" next to it," Warner said in Richmond, echoing a theme of his campaigns. "We need a president who will ask us to step up not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but first and foremost as Americans."
Kaine said Obama would replace an administration "that can't respond to a hurricane or manage a war, or manage an economy."
And the Democrats referred to a statement that McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer made this weekend in which she said Obama might do well in Northern Virginia, but that Republican rival John McCain would prevail elsewhere, the "real Virginia, if you will."
Obama told the Leesburg crowd: "I know some people don't think so, but this looks like the real Virginia to me."
Obama will head today to his home state of Hawaii to visit his ailing grandmother in what is an extraordinary departure from the campaign trail with 12 days left in the race.
His advisers said he did not hesitate to make the trip when his sister called with the news. But the move has caused mild anxiety among his aides, eased somewhat by polling that shows him maintaining a lead over McCain.
Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, suffered a broken hip and possibly a heart attack, people close to the Obamas said, and is recovering at her apartment in Honolulu after a hospital stay. Obama's sister, Maya, is caring for her. Dunham will turn 86 on Sunday.
In an interview with CBS, Obama said he was going to Hawaii because he does not want to be too late in seeing his grandmother, as he was when his mother died.
"Yeah, got there too late," Obama said of his mother. "We knew she wasn't doing well, but you know, the diagnosis was such that we thought we had a little more time, and we didn't. And so I want to make sure that I don't make the same mistake twice."
Obama also told CBS's Harry Smith that: "My grandmother's the last one left. She has really been the rock of the family, the foundation of the family."
The central political problem the trip presents is that it takes Obama off-message, his advisers said, diverting attention from the campaign's focus on the economy. Although Obama will take the traveling press corps with him on the 36-hour trip - ensuring coverage of him as a dutiful grandson - he will miss events in the swing states of Iowa and Wisconsin. McCain is scheduled to appear on "Meet the Press" from Iowa over the weekend, just after Obama returns to the mainland.
The campaign is dispatching running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Obama's wife, Michelle, to what they hope will be well-covered appearances.
Alan Abramowitz, a presidential expert at Emory University, said Obama's decision to leave the campaign so close to the election, albeit briefly, seems unprecedented in recent history.
"I can't think of anything even remotely similar," he said. But he also thought it might not make much difference. "My feeling is that it's not going to have that much importance. He's still going to be running his ads; he's still going to be running his ground game; he's still going to have his get-out-the-vote operation running."
There might even be a silver lining. "Maybe people will like the fact that he's stopped his campaigning to visit his dying grandmother," he said.
Even though Obama received word at least by Monday of his grandmother's failing health, the campaign stuck to its schedule this week of visiting states that went for President Bush four years ago.
Obama completed the two-day swing through Florida, where voting began Monday, before coming to Virginia. He even added an event in Indiana today to complete the red-state tenor of the week. He will leave for Honolulu from Indianapolis this afternoon and resume campaigning Saturday morning in Nevada, another red-state battleground.