The Final Push
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
It took nearly two years, many ups and downs, countless smart moves, missed chances and lucky breaks. But finally Barack Obama could say the words: "One more day."
The senator from Illinois spent yesterday campaigning in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, states that have not supported a Democratic presidential nominee in years. He posed for a group photo with his traveling staff, grinning broadly in front of the gleaming white campaign plane emblazoned with the slogan that has carried him through his 632-day candidacy: "Change We Can Believe In."
"This is our last rally," Obama told a sea of supporters in Manassas last night. "After decades of broken politics in Washington, eight years of failed policies from George Bush, and 21 months of a campaign, we are less than one day away from bringing about change in America."
But the final day on the campaign trail was rooted in sadness. Obama learned yesterday morning that his maternal grandmother, the only survivor among the adults who shaped his young life in Hawaii, had died overnight at age 86.
Madelyn Dunham, or "Toot," as he called her, had been a beloved figure, described by Obama in countless speeches and interviews as a surrogate mother, pioneering female executive and proud World War II wife who worked on a bomber assembly line. [Obituary]
"She was the cornerstone of our family," Obama and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng said in a statement announcing Dunham's death. "She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances."
Dunham and her husband, Stanley, had raised Obama in Hawaii during part of his high school years when his mother was living in Indonesia, and the candidate spoke to his grandmother often. Her poor health had not permitted her to campaign for him, but she had corneal transplants this year so she could see him more clearly on television.
His voice heavy with emotion, Obama announced Dunham's death to the Charlotte crowd, saying: "I'm not going to talk about it too long, because it's hard, you know, to talk about." He paused, and then continued, "I want everyone to know, though, a little bit about her."
He described Dunham as "a very humble person, a very plain-spoken person. One of those quiet heroes we have all across America. They're not famous. Their names aren't in the newspaper. But each and every day they work hard. They look after their families. They sacrifice for their children and grandchildren. They aren't seeking the limelight -- all they try to do is just do the right thing."
He added: "And in this crowd there are a lot of quiet heroes like that. That's what America's about. That's what we're fighting for."
Obama traveled to Hawaii late last month to visit Dunham, who had cancer. He received word of her death about 8 a.m., and even before his advisers heard the news, they wondered whether something was amiss. Despite Obama's solid lead in most national and battleground polls, he seemed quiet, out of sorts. "He was subdued," senior aide Linda Douglass said. "It was very evident."
Presidential rival John McCain and his wife, Cindy, issued a statement of condolence to Obama and his family "as they remember and celebrate the life of someone who had such a profound impact in their lives."