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A 'mistake' Barack Obama won't make a second time

October 22, 2008 |  7:20 pm

In early 2004, when Barack Obama was a little-known Illinois state senator running for the U.S. Senate,  he told an interviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times that his biggest regret in life "was not being at my mother's bedside when she died. She was in Hawaii in a hospital, and we didn't know how fast it was going to take. And I didn't get there in time."

That's not going to happen again, he told Harry Smith of CBS' "Early Show" today, explaining why he is taking a two-day break from his presidential campaign to visit his grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham, in Honolulu (see video clip below). Dunham, who turns 86 on Sunday, has been described as "gravely ill" after falling and breaking her hip.

She still lives in the same modest two-bedroom apartment in Honolulu where she and her husband, Stanley, who died in 1992, raised the young Obama, and later his half-sister, while their mother (her daughter, Stanley Ann) was living abroad.

"I suppose I provided some stability in his life," the woman Obama calls "Toot" (short for tutu, meaning "grandparent" in Hawaiian) said in 2004 during a rare interview with the Chicago Tribune.

A campaign ad features a photograph of the candidate and his grandparents, with a voice-over of Obama saying they "taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland" where they were born. His grandmother's presence was also felt in the pivotal speech on race he made in March, during the controversy over the incendiary comments of his onetime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright:

I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

In August, while vacationing with his family in Hawaii before the Democratic convention, Obama visited Dunham almost every day.

“My grandmother's the last one left,” Obama told Smith today.  “She has really been the rock of the family, the foundation of the family.... I want to make sure that I don't make the same mistake twice.”

-- Leslie Hoffecker

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