CHARLOTTE, N.C. — During his final full day on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama's will was tested Monday by the death of his grandmother, someone who desperately wanted to see the election's outcome.

Her passing as he was on the brink of potentially realizing his political goal was a tragic final installment to what has been an epic campaign filled with dramatic ups and downs throughout.

After nearly 21 months of exhaustive campaigning, hundreds of thousands of miles traveled and rallies that collectively drew millions, Obama kept a relatively light schedule—perhaps reflecting his confidence and lead in the polls.

Hoping to become the nation's first African-American president, the Illinois senator visited three East Coast states that went Republican in 2004, mobilizing supporters for the final Election Day push.

He was to log 1,226 miles in the air for the day—making stops in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia—before returning to Chicago after midnight.

Obama was expected to vote Tuesday morning at his South Side precinct before flying to Indianapolis for his final campaign stop in a journey that has taken him to every state, with the exception of Arkansas and Alaska.

His polling-day tradition of a basketball game is planned for the afternoon, before he awaits returns in a downtown hotel, in advance of what he hopes will be a massive victory rally in Chicago's Grant Park.

"We have had a remarkable campaign," he said at a university campus field in Charlotte soaked by hard rain in the minutes before he spoke. "No matter what happens tomorrow, I'm going to feel good about how it's turned out because all of you have created this incredible campaign."

Obama said they would succeed because the effort had instilled hope. "That's how we're going to win this election in 24 hours," he said.

With friends saying he has long ago grown tired of the monotony of the campaign trail, Obama told supporters he had done his part. The rest was in their hands.

"At this point, I've made the arguments," he told 9,000 inside an arena in Jacksonville. "Now it's all about who wants it more, who believes in it more."

Obama tried to tamp down the confidence he expressed a day earlier, fearing supporters could grow complacent.

"This is going to be close here in Florida," he said. "This is going to be close all across the country."

Aides said Obama was in his hotel room Monday morning in Jacksonville doing brief interviews with radio stations in battleground states when he learned Madelyn Dunham had died after a long battle with cancer.

He was described as stoic upon hearing that she had passed and told aides he was grateful that he had a chance to say goodbye in person when he recently suspended his campaign for two days to return to Hawaii.

Dunham, 86, was a rock of stability as Obama was growing up, giving him the American roots that would ground his teenage years as well as his career in politics.

Speaking after news of his grandmother's death had been made public, Obama said that the evening marked a "bittersweet" moment.

"She has gone home," he said in Charlotte as tears streamed down his face. "She died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side, and so there is great joy, as well as tears."

mccormickj@tribune.com