CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Barack Obama called the last day of his
presidential race "bittersweet." He carried himself with the
confidence of a candidate who sensed victory after an intense,
two-year campaign and learned that the woman who helped raise him
wouldn't get to see the outcome.
As the first black Democratic presidential nominee began Monday
in a Florida hotel room, he got word that his grandmother Madelyn
Dunham had died at the apartment in Honolulu where he lived with
her as a child. He went ahead with his campaign plans, grieving
privately for several hours before breaking into tears in front of
25,000 people gathered in the rain for a rally at the University of
"She's gone home," Obama said as the rowdy group of supporters
grew silent and tears ran down both cheeks. "And she died
peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side. And so there is
great joy as well as tears. I'm not going to talk about it too long
because it is hard for me to talk about."
It was a unique personal and humanizing moment in a long
campaign that frequently turned ugly and, for Obama, has been an
uphill struggle from Day One. He entered the primary race as the
underdog against Hillary Rodham Clinton, and faced persistent
questions about whether he was qualified for the presidency and
nasty rumors that falsely suggested a sinister background.
His grandmother was a central part of his real story, and he
interrupted his campaign last month to visit her as her life neared
its end. "Toot," as he called her in an abbreviated version the
Hawaiian word for grandmother, raised a young Obama for several
years in Hawaii while his mother lived in Indonesia. He explained
to the North Carolina audience how Dunham inspired his campaign by
her lifetime of hard work and sacrifice.
"In just one more day we have the opportunity to honor all
those quiet heroes all across America," Obama said. "We can bring
change to America to make sure their work and their sacrifice is
honored. That's what we're fighting for."
Obama's wife, Michelle, also choked back emotion as she
remembered her grandmother-in-law who couldn't travel but followed
the campaign closely on CNN.
"This is an emotional time for us," Michelle Obama told
supporters in Colorado. "We were hoping she'd hang in there but
she didn't. But she knew what was going on."
All indications were that Obama was heading for success, unless
McCain's supporters could pull off the upset they've been
Obama's election eve schedule reflected his confidence that
victory could be in his grasp. While John McCain rushed around to
seven states for last-minute campaigning on Monday, Obama didn't
appear before voters until after 11 a.m., the first of just three
events for the day.
Before that, he did radio interviews from the hotel room, then
he headed out in sweat pants and a ball cap for a 45-minute workout
at a gym.
"What is the one thing at this point that has you a little bit
concerned?" syndicated radio host Russ Parr asked.
"You know, I feel pretty peaceful, Russ, I gotta say," Obama
replied. "Because my attitude is, if we've done everything we can
do, then it's up to the people to decide. And the question is going
to be who wants it more. And I hope that our supporters want it
bad, because I think the country needs it."
Obama's supporters were nothing if not fired up. About 9,000
came to his event in conservative-leaning Jacksonville, Fla., while
across the state in Tampa, McCain drew less than 1,000. Obama's
crowd was decked out in campaign T-shirts that said things like
"Obama is my homeboy," and stood in their seats at Veterans
Memorial Arena before he got there, dancing to a warm-up soundtrack
that included India.Arie's song, "There's Hope."
By now clad in suit and tie, he told them: "I have just one
word for you, Florida: 'Tomorrow."'
Actually, he had a lot of words for them - recapping his long
campaign and looking to the future - once he quieted their
screaming. Sensing victory, the crowd was exuberant.
"I voted for you!" called out an audience member.
"Thank you for the vote," Obama said, trying with a smile to
pick up the thread of his speech in front of a crowd that was ready
to celebrate. "All right, you all, let's settle down," he said
later as they interrupted him with their cheers.
He said that after "21 months of a campaign that's taken us
from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunshine of California, we are
one day away from changing the United States of America."
Obama focused on voters in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia
- on offense in Republican red states, energetic but not as
aggressive as McCain.
Obama reminded the crowd that McCain had campaigned in the same
arena a few weeks ago and said the "fundamentals of our economy
are strong." When the crowd jeered, Obama repeated his favorite
line of recent days, "You don't need to boo, you just need to
The speech hit his usual points:
- "We are in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the
Great Depression," and McCain would just give the country more
- McCain has served the nation honorable, but "the truth is
John McCain just doesn't get it."
- Something must be done about families who have no insurance -
or insurance that won't pay.
- "I will end this war."
Meanwhile, the election.
When did it hit home that he might actually win? As far back as
the night he won the Iowa Democratic caucuses on Jan. 3, he allowed
during the day. Still, he said over and over that he and his
supporters must keep working, assume nothing.
Not that he wasn't thinking ahead, too.
What keeps him up at night? asked ABC News Radio's Ann Compton.
"Not actually winning or losing," he said. "It's governing."