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A message to the candidates: 'This is not a game'

  • Story Highlights
  • Bank employees in Ohio town talk about financial woes, election campaign
  • "I never felt the crunch before. I do now," says one, a loan processor
  • Others tell of canceled vacation trips, friends who have lost jobs
  • Bank worker hopes candidates understand real people are depending on the winner
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By Bob Greene
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Award-winning writer Bob Greene is riding CNN's Election Express across the country in the final weeks before the election to tell stories about how the issues affect Americans.

Nelson Roe, from left, Crystal Brandfass and Paula Smith are feeling the economic crunch.

ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS (CNN) -- There are moments -- sometimes fleeting and quiet -- that make you stop and consider anew just how much is at stake on that day in November when a new president will be elected.

And some of those moments carry not even a sliver of partisanship. Not a hint of anger or acrimony.

We had pulled into Cambridge, Ohio, for lunch. It was a sunny afternoon in the town of 13,000, with a farmers' market on the courthouse lawn across from the Advantage Bank building. The setting felt like a vintage postcard; the local newspaper, the Jeffersonian, featured stories about a "Bark in the Park" event for the dogs of Guernsey County, and an announcement of the cast for the Deersville Community Players' fall theatrical production, "A Wing and a Prayer."

Some staff members of the bank came outside, and we started talking about the campaign, and one of them -- Paula Smith, 43, a loan processor -- said:

"I hope the candidates ask themselves sometimes if they're being completely honest with us about everything they put on the table."

I asked her what she meant.

"All this bashing of each other -- I hope when they lay their heads down at night, they think about that. Because there are a lot of us out here who are depending on whoever wins, and I hope that in the middle of all the things they're saying, they pause once in a while to think about that."

Two of her colleagues -- Crystal Brandfass, 26, and Nelson Roe, 28 -- listened and nodded. The banking industry nationwide is verging on utter disarray. Their own bank had recently agreed to be sold to a larger operation. Jobs have been lost; there are no guarantees others will not follow.

The three have no illusions that John McCain or Barack Obama will have the magical answer to turn things around instantly in the country. But they wish the candidates would understand that, after all the frenzy and excitement of the long campaign is over, there are people who truly are counting on the winner to remember there are families trying to have faith in all the promises.

"This year we didn't take a vacation, because of money," Crystal Brandfass said. "Usually we go to Florida, or North Carolina. But we decided we couldn't do that, because of how much gas costs."

All three grew up embracing the hearty stereotype of banking work being secure and steady and solid.

"It seemed safe," Paula Smith said.

But she and her colleagues said the economic fears spoken about on television newscasts and on newspaper front pages every day have reached into their town in the most personal of ways.

"They talk about all this on the campaign trail," she said. "But we live in this. The candidates talk every day, and then they go on to another town and talk some more. I'm not convinced they feel it in their own lives. We do. I never felt the crunch before. I do now."

Her father worked most of his life for Champion Spark Plug; her mother was a secretary at Trinity Baptist Church. Her husband is a field technician for the Dominion Gas Co. She was taught: Work hard and everything will be all right.

"But so many of my friends around town are losing their jobs," she said. "One at a plastic manufacturer, one at the hospital... ."

Nelson Roe said he is single: "I don't have children or family concerns. But I used to go up to Columbus on the weekends to have fun. Go out to eat. Get a change in scenery. I haven't done that in a while. Because of money."

Three bankers in the middle of the country. "It's even hard now to raise money in town for band trips, or for the Relay for Life," Paula Smith said. "People are just worried."

She said she hopes the two men running for president are not too caught up in their battle to keep something fundamental in mind.

"It's a contest for them, I know," she said on a seemingly glorious afternoon in southeastern Ohio. "But I hope they understand that this is not a game."

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