HONOLULU - Barack Obama, briefly a grandson instead of a candidate, spent some quiet family time Friday with the ailing woman who helped raise him, while a clutch of reporters, guards and gawkers waited outside her apartment building.
The Democratic presidential candidate spent about an hour with 85-year-old Madelyn Dunham on Thursday night and visited again Friday. He was joined by his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.
His decision to leave the campaign trail for a day and a half so close to the election reflects the depth of his relationship with Dunham and the severity of her condition.
"Without going through the details too much, she's gravely ill. We weren't sure, and I'm still not sure, whether she makes it to Election Day," Obama told ABC's Good Morning America. "We're all praying, and we hope she does, but one of the things I want to make sure of is I had a chance to sit down with her and to talk to her. She's still alert, and she's still got all her faculties."
While Obama focused on family, he wasn't able to leave the campaign behind entirely.
He traveled the streets of Honolulu, where he was born and spent much of his childhood, in a motorcade of police cars and Secret Service vehicles. A pool of reporters tagged along. Supporters waited in hopes of spotting him for a few seconds.
Even an attempt to take a quiet walk through his old neighborhood involved guards and a crowd of reporters and cameras, attracting attention from passers-by. Obama, clad in jeans, a black shirt and sandals, appeared sad and quickly gave up on the idea, returning to his grandmother's apartment building in an SUV.
Obama's Kansas-born mother and Kenyan father met as college students in Hawaii, but Dunham and her husband, Stanley, raised Obama for extended periods when his mother lived overseas. He spent years living in the two-bedroom apartment where Dunham is trying to recuperate from a broken hip.
In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Obama described Dunham as the "rock" who provided financial and practical stability among the other adults in his life, including a father who left early on, an anthropologist mother given to wanderlust, and a dreamer of a grandfather who was, as Obama wrote, "always searching for that new start."
It was his grandmother who was practical enough to support the family by working her way up from the secretarial pool to vice president at a local bank. It was a process that took more than 20 years, and Obama at times points to Dunham as an example of a generation of women who advanced despite sexist constraints.
"She has really been the rock of the family, the foundation of the family," Obama said on CBS's The Early Show. "Whatever strength and discipline that I have, it comes from her."
Dunham, who turns 86 on Sunday, has not campaigned for Obama but has followed the presidential race closely, even getting a corneal transplant so that she can see the television better.