Obama takes break to visit ailing grandmother

Barack Obama left the US presidential campaign trail to visit his ailing grandmother as new polls showed him with solid leads in states that could all but guarantee his victory over John McCain in the November 4 election.

Two polls gave Mr Obama double-digit leads in Ohio, a battleground state won by Republican President George Bush in 2004.

The polls also showed Mr Obama with double digit leads in Pennsylvania, a Democratic state that would be crucial to Mr McCain’s hopes for a come-from-behind victory.

Mr Obama has also led most national polls, though some surveys show the race tightening. But the nationwide popular vote does not count for victory in the US system, which depends instead on state-by-state tallies of electoral votes.

State polls show Mr Obama likely to win all the states that voted for fellow Democrat John Kerry in 2004, plus a few that went to Mr Bush. If he wins all of Mr Kerry’s states, plus Ohio, he would win the election.

Mr Obama, seeking to become the first black US president, has seen his poll numbers rise as the United States’ economic turmoil deepens. He has argued that Mr McCain would follow the same economic and war policies as the unpopular Bush administration.

In recent days, Mr McCain has stepped up attacks on Mr Obama, charging he would pursue socialist tax plans aimed at redistributing Americans’ wealth.

As he toured Florida, a must-win state that Mr McCain is in danger of losing, the Republican said Mr Obama would say “anything to get elected”.

Meanwhile, Mr Obama campaigned in Indiana, another Republican state that he has a chance of winning. He characterised Mr McCain’s approach to taxes as nothing more than “putting corporations ahead of workers”.

After the rally, Mr Obama flew to Hawaii to see his grandmother, 85-year-old Madelyn Payne Dunham, who helped raise him. Ms Dunham was recently released from the hospital and was said to be gravely ill after breaking a hip.

Mr Obama was to spend most of today with her before campaigning tomorrow in Nevada.

Leaving the campaign trail less than two weeks before the election was politically risky. His lead is hardly insurmountable and poll numbers have shifted sharply throughout the race.

But it could also help voters see a more personal side of Mr Obama, who has been criticised at times for seeming aloof.

Mr Obama said the decision to go to Hawaii was easy to make, telling CBS television that he “got there too late” when his mother died of ovarian cancer in 1995 at age 53, and wants now to make sure “that I don’t make the same mistake twice”.

“My grandmother’s the last one left,” he said.

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