Las Vegas Sun

June 30, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Housing may be pyramid scheme that gets Heck

Hook top Democratic strategists to a polygraph and ask them if they think Speaker John Oceguera will defeat GOP Rep. Joe Heck and — if they tell the truth — they would say no.

As much as they want to take back Congressional District 3, they have long feared that the tireless, deft Heck would defeat Oceguera, who some Democrats fear has too much legislative baggage to survive. Democrats felt some hope after Heck was caught on camera last year calling Social Security a “pyramid scheme,” but not enough to declare Oceguera would win.

But now, I think, whatever Oceguera’s flaws might be, the Democrats probably believe another issue in his district just might be insurmountable for the incumbent; the issue that defines Nevada’s still-sluggish economy: the housing crisis.

Heck is acutely aware of this — I have seen it in his appearances on “Face to Face” and elsewhere. He knows people are angry at losing, or being bankrupted by, the biggest purchase of their lives. He is doing outreach in the district, dispatching staffers to help people.

But as the blowback to the recent “global” banking settlement shows, one which Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto acknowledges affects only a sliver of those in distress, the anger continues to boil. This week you saw Heck torn between his desire to be part of what looked at one time like a guaranteed winning team — Team Mitt Romney, that is — and his even greater desire for re-election.

Heck’s decision at a town hall to make a clear break from Romney on the foreclosure crisis, after trying to defend him last year, is a sign that it could be his kryptonite and Oceguera’s spinach.

This goes back to October, when Romney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board (oh, the sweet irony!): “ “Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up.”

As Sun columnist J. Patrick Coolican pointed out, Romney might be right on the economics. But, as often happens with the man who is concerned with corporate people and not the very poor ones, what comes out of his mouth often does not help his case, no matter how good it is.

In a follow-up piece, a Heck aide told the Review-Journal the congressman “thinks the housing market ‘does need to reach bottom’….(but supports) ‘a soft landing rather than a hard crash’ by having the government continue to offer refinancing help.”

Even then, you could see Heck, who co-chairs Romney’s campaign in Nevada, realized Romney’s words could be damaging, so he agreed but then tried to, ahem, soften the blow.

Then, on Tuesday at a town hall, Heck, surely by now realizing what being aligned with Romney on these comments could mean, distanced himself completely, as I detailed on my blog.

Said Heck: “Mitt Romney and I don’t agree on every issue and certainly housing is one of them. When you look at what is going on here in Southern Nevada, you can’t say you’ve got to let the housing market hit bottom. We have been bouncing along the bottom for years. And the fact is we have to do everything possible to: 1) keep people in their homes and 2) get people who are out of their homes back into their homes.”

You notice that last year, he said nothing about disagreeing with Romney. And see how different his construction is there. His spokesman offered that this was a “nonstory,” that Heck still supports a “soft landing.”

But these are just words. And they are not the words that many voters in his district want to hear, as Cortez Masto also knows.

People are hurting and impatient. Their party affiliation is irrelevant — they just want the government to help them refinance, reduce their principal, fix their problems.

For a conservative such as Heck, this is dancing on the head of a pin. And as dexterous as he is, he can’t pull it off.

It’s like the old saw about what a team can do to stop a superstar – Heck can’t stop the damage; he can only hope to contain it.

I remember toward the end of the 2010 cycle watching then-Rep. Dina Titus do everything she could to erect sandbags against what was obviously going to be an onrushing GOP tide on Election Day. She was relentless, skillful and resourceful. And she still lost, despite Herculean efforts.

It’s only February. But if Heck doesn’t find a way to deal with this — if there is a way — the pyramid may not collapse on him, but the house just might.

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