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In Kansas, Obama Tells His Family Story

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In Kansas, Obama Tells His Family Story

Election 2008

In Kansas, Obama Tells His Family Story

In Kansas, Obama Tells His Family Story

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18532846/18533239" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Sen. Barack Obama campaigns in his maternal grandfather's hometown in rural Kansas. The Democratic presidential contender painted a complex picture of how his family background spans the racial divide.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The most Democratic votes in Florida went to Senator Hillary Clinton. She got no convention delegates. The National Democratic Party took away Florida's delegates as punishment from moving up the primary and the candidates did not contest the state. All of which did not stop Senator Clinton from holding a rally in Florida last night.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I think it's time we again had a president who put the American people first and that is what I will try to do.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

INSKEEP: The candidates move on now to next week's Super Tuesday races. Yesterday, Senator Barack Obama was in Kansas where he had a kind of homecoming.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: Barack Obama is often described as the first African-American to have a real chance at winning the presidency, and his race has at times been a focal point of his candidacy. Obama's father was from Kenya, his mother, who was white, was from Kansas. And yesterday in the Kansas town of El Dorado, outside Wichita, he painted a much more complex picture of his background.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): It's a story that began here in El Dorado, when a young man fell in love with a young woman who grew up down the road in Augusta.

GONYEA: That's his grandfather and grandmother he's talking about. Speaking in a packed gymnasium at a local community college, Senator Obama looked back to the 1930s when hard times forced his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, and his bride to scramble to make ends meet, then came World War II.

Sen. OBAMA: He enlisted in Patton's army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She gave birth to their daughter when he left for war. In a time of great uncertainty and great anxiety, my grandparents held on to a simple dream - that they could raise my mother in a land of boundless opportunity.

GONYEA: In remarks that were different from his usual campaign stump speech, Senator Obama traced his family tree. He told how his mother, living in Kansas, fell in love with a man from Kenya. And he spoke of how that man left when Obama was just two years old. He talked of how his mother struggled with poverty and of how he and his sister were still able to get a good education.

Sen. OBAMA: So our family's story, the story of - it's a story that spans miles and generations. It spans races and realities.

GONYEA: And it's one that spans the racial divide.

Sen. OBAMA: This country is more than a collection of Red States and Blue States because my story could only happen in the United States of America.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: On his plane heading to Kansas, Obama told reporters some of his cousins would be attending the rally, joking that we probably wouldn't think they were his cousins if we spotted them in a crowd. Sure enough, at the event, he made an introduction.

Sen. OBAMA: And I've got another relative here at the - McCurry, where'd she go? There she is.

GONYEA: A 72-year-old white woman stood up in the audience not far from the stage - Margaret McCurry Wolf.

Ms. MARGARET McCURRY WOLF (Senator Barack Obama's Grandmother): His grandmother is my first cousin and we lived in Wichita and his grandma grew up in Augusta so we spent a lot of time on holidays and picnics with his grandma.

GONYEA: Wolf says she first heard of Barack Obama about four years ago and got a huge surprise one day while watching him on TV. Obama was being interviewed about his new book and began talking about his maternal grandmother.

Ms. WOLF: I looked at my husband, I just started shivering. I said that's Stanley Ann's son. I said he is my cousin.

GONYEA: Now Kansas is a state with just a small minority population. It's also a state that's been solid Republican in presidential elections for a long time. When asked what she thinks Senator Obama's chances are, Wolf predicts victories in the caucuses in Kansas next week and nationally in November. Smiling wildly, she says, quote, "He's got lots of cousins working for him."

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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