Barack Obama is leaving the campaign trail for two days this week to visit his ailing grandmother, but just how much difference will his absence make?

Electorally (not personally) speaking, the pros will probably make up for the cons. The biggest pro, obviously, is that some swing voters will be reminded that Obama was raised by white grandparents. The other is the sentimental factor—just remember how many votes Hillary Clinton earned with a tear up in New Hampshire.

“This is a guy running for president, he’s got an opportunity to win, and he’s putting it all aside to see his grandmother,” says Tony Bawidamann, a Democratic campaign consultant with the MWW Group. “For swing voters, especially women voters, I think this will help them see Obama’s compassionate side.”

Bawidamann knows something about the cons here. One of the toughest situations he says he ever encountered was when he had an Orthodox Jewish candidate unable to campaign for most of October. When his candidate left the trail to observe his religious requirements, Bawidamann dispatched surrogates. Every one of them made sure voters knew the reason why the candidate couldn’t be there. The race was neck-and-neck; on Election Day, though, the candidate won his New Jersey Assembly seat by about five points.

Obama’s key surrogate, his wife Michelle, will headline the candidate’s scheduled events in Wisconsin and Iowa on Thursday.


“It hurts him a little bit, but he’s buying so much paid media in those markets right now that it won’t affect him that much,” Bawidamann says.


Obama is up by roughly 11 points in both states, according to averages by both RealClearPolitics and In 2004, Bush won Iowa while Kerry took Wisconsin—although both wins were by less than half of 1 percent.

The McCain campaign largely pulled out of Wisconsin last week, although it has told stations there it will continue to buy airtime through Oct. 26.

Christie Findlay is managing editor at Politics magazine.