Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

In Ohio, candidates are salesmen trying to close the deal

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
September 21, 2012 -- Updated 2355 GMT (0755 HKT)
People cheer as Mitt Romney arrives for a campaign stop at Mapleside Farms on June 17, 2012 in Brunswick, Ohio.
People cheer as Mitt Romney arrives for a campaign stop at Mapleside Farms on June 17, 2012 in Brunswick, Ohio.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene was in Ohio this summer, where presidential candidate visits were constant
  • He says they are like traveling salesmen who must show up if they want to close the deal
  • He says Ohioans get weary of the courting, even though they know it ends in November
  • Greene: They're like Willy Loman: "A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory"

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story" and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

(CNN) -- "Excuse me," the woman called. "Is the president still speaking?"

"I think so," I called over to her.

She let her face scrunch up into an expression of mild dismay. It had nothing at all to do with politics.

This was in central Ohio; she was standing next to a furniture-delivery truck near the intersection of two streets called Sherwood and Dawson.

President Barack Obama was addressing a rally on the campus of Capital University in Bexley, a few blocks away. People attending the event had jammed the residential neighborhood with their parked cars, and some of those cars were so close to her driveway, on Sherwood, that the furniture truck could not maneuver into it.

"I had this delivery scheduled, but I didn't know it would be the same time the president was here," she said, her voice pleasant. "The guys from the truck are looking for another way to get it to my house. I told them I'd stand here and guard the furniture."

Ohio is getting plenty of visits from the candidates. During the time I was in the middle of Ohio this summer, Paul Ryan was in the area twice, Mitt Romney was there at least once, and on this early afternoon Obama had made his way to Capital. Scenes like this repeat every four years; there are days in highly contested states when something seems almost amiss if you don't encounter a motorcade or a police escort.

They are traveling salesmen, the candidates are; they hit the road bearing their products -- the products being themselves. And although presidential and vice presidential candidates are the most celebrated politicians in the land, they become not so different from the thousands of other sales reps who lug their sample cases across America every work week of the year.

Gergen: Harsh realities for Democrats

Obama: Team USA can't beat Dream Team
Obama kicks off 2012 campaign in Ohio
Romney claims credit for auto success

And the people in the towns -- especially in the swing states -- find out what it's like to be suddenly wanted, to be the recipient of exceptionally fervid sales ardor.

When you are in the market for a big-ticket item -- a house; a new car -- you notice how accommodating the real-estate agent or the car dealership is toward you: always checking back, asking what they can do to win your business, generally being constantly around and ever available. After you've bought the item, they tend not to come calling.

That's how it is during that small sliver of time when the people running for president and vice president can't do enough for the potential voters. For those voters in the states that can tip the balance of an election, it can be flattering -- and also a little wearying -- to be so relentlessly courted, even while knowing that the courtship has a hard expiration date in early November.

Begala: Democrats fix their enthusiasm gap

The candidates, however low on sleep and tugged in all directions, travel great distances to try to make the sale. Despite the much-vaunted reach of television commercials and social networks, they understand that, to close the deal, they had better be there in person, just like the real-estate agent or the car dealer. Because if they aren't, they know that the other real-estate agent or car dealer will be.

To watch the major-party candidates move through the country in these months ... well, for all their fame, there's more than a bit of literature's most unforgettable salesman, Willy Loman, present: "a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine."

On the day Obama spoke on the campus lawn at Capital, the Secret Service and the local police had closed down Pleasant Ridge Avenue to traffic, but allowed pedestrians to slip around the barricade if they wanted to give the pizzeria one door down a little business. A local man walking with a cane, running for an office considerably less lofty than president or vice president, stopped at each of the outdoor tables and handed a leaflet to each pizza-eater, saying: "I'd like your vote this fall. I'm on the ballot."

In less than nine weeks, two of the four men crisscrossing the nation -- Obama, Romney, Ryan, Joe Biden -- are going to find out that they failed to make the sale after all, and two of the men are going to find out that they have successfully culminated the transaction. The nervous uncertainty of that is what can make their high-level pursuit at times feel utterly life-sized.

Arthur Miller, in that same play in which he introduced Willy Loman to the world, understood the compulsion behind all of this quite well:

"A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT