In Charlotte, a somber election eve for Obama

On a personally bittersweet day, Democrat Barack Obama reached out to N.C. voters in Charlotte Monday, speaking to thousands at an outdoor rally and personally calling a half-dozen from his Charlotte headquarters.

Obama urged supporters during a speech at UNC Charlotte to keep working to help him win. It was his second stop on a final-day swing through three traditionally Republican states and the second-to-last rally of a hard-fought 21-month campaign.

“In these last 24 hours, we can't afford to slow down or sit back,” he told a crowd university officials estimated at more than 20,000. “Don't believe for a second this election is over. Don't think for a minute that power concedes. All of us are going to have to work like our future depends on it in the next 24 hours.”

His visit on the eve of an historic election underscored how competitive the race is in a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. Polls on Monday showed him essentially tied in North Carolina with Republican John McCain.

Obama gave the same stump speech he had delivered earlier in Jacksonville, Fla. But he deviated from his text to acknowledge the death Sunday evening of Madelyn Dunham, his 86-year-old grandmother.

“Obviously, this is a little bit of a bittersweet time for me,” he told the crowd on the misty athletic field.

“Some of you heard that my grandmother, who helped raise me, passed away. … And, look, she has gone home, and she died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side. So there's great joy as well as tears. I'm not going to talk about it too long because it's hard to talk about.”

As he wiped away tears, he called his grandmother “a quiet hero.”

“That's what America's about,” he said, “and that's what we're fighting for and North Carolina, in just one more day, we have the opportunity to honor all those quiet heroes.”

Last month, Obama took a break from campaigning and flew to Hawaii to be with Dunham as her health declined. The family said Monday a private ceremony would be held later.

At UNCC, Obama acknowledged what he called the “incredibly gracious” condolences from John and Cindy McCain.

Earlier, during an impromptu stop at his storefront headquarters on Elizabeth Avenue, he greeted volunteers clustered into a room amid a throng of TV cameras and reporters.

“How'm I looking around here?” he asked.

“We're looking good,” volunteers shouted back. “We're gonna do it.”

On a day when his campaign canvassed neighborhoods and made last-minute calls, Obama personally telephoned several voters.

“This is Sen. Barack Obama, how are you?” he said to one.

“We need you to go out tomorrow,” he told another. “It's going to be close in North Carolina. I'm counting on you.”

At one point, Obama reached out to an elderly woman apparently overcome with emotion. Cradling the phone in one hand, he put an arm around tearful volunteer Alverna Bracy.

“You all are getting all emotional,” he said after the call. “We've got to win this race.”

Asked to comment on Obama's appearance, the McCain campaign offered a reaction to comments Obama had made earlier Monday on MTV, when he described his tax hikes as “chump change.”

“Americans aren't ‘chumps,' and they're looking for a leader with a record of making change, not taking it,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.

At his Charlotte headquarters, Obama left volunteers with a pep talk.

“I hope you guys feel like you're making a little history,” he said. “We've just got to work 24 (more) hours. We can take North Carolina, and if we take North Carolina, we win this election.”

From Charlotte, Obama flew on to Manassas, Va., for the final stop of his campaign.

The Associated Press contributed.