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The Policy Racket

GOP presidential debate features housing issue

Perry has memory lapse, Cain defiant on sexual harrassment allegations

GOP debate

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Republican presidential candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman laugh during a commercial break at a Republican Presidential Debate at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011.

Sun Coverage

Once the reject issue of the 2012 debate circuit, housing seems to have secured a central place in debates from now on, as the moderators of the CNBC debate Wednesday spent an extended period grilling every Republican presidential contender on stage but one about his or her position on the economic question that hits Nevadans particularly close to home.

Mitt Romney doubled down, Newt Gingrich buttoned up, and Ron Paul went to the mat, arguing the best approach to bad mortgages was to “liquidate” them and “clear the market.”

Romney has come under the harshest fire for advocating that the market should be allowed to bottom out.

While in Las Vegas, he tempered that with a promise to look at ways a potential Romney administration could help push banks toward writing down more mortgages. But Wednesday night, it was clear he’d thrown the notion of government intervention out the window.

“Would you decide to have the federal government go out and buy all the homes in America?” he asked a moderator who challenged him, saying the market-only approach would potentially leave the country even further in the hole on housing values in a few years.

“Markets work,” Romney continued. “When you have government play its heavy hand, markets blow up and people get hurt. And the reason we have the housing crisis we have is that the federal government played too heavy a role in our markets.”

Gingrich disagreed with the fully hands-off approach in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun last month. But Wednesday night, he downplayed his recommendations for proactive government intervention, giving voice instead to how much he agreed with his market-focused colleagues.

“You want to get through to the real value of the houses as fast as you can, because they’re not going to rise in value as long as you stay trapped,” he said, saying a repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, and changes in the rules governing short sales, could help. “But in the long run, you want the housing market to come back? The economy has to come back.”

That was pretty much the extent of Herman Cain’s answer on housing too: “You start with fixing the real problem, which is growing this economy, which is why I have put a bold solution on the table, 9-9-9.”

The real question for Cain had nothing to do with the housing though, or any other part of the economy.

It was the first time Cain took to a debate stage since reports surfaced of multiple alleged incidents of his sexually harrassing behavior toward female employees of the National Restaurant Association while he was at its helm.

“The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion,” he said Wednesday night, when asked if the country should elect a president with potentially serious character flaws. “For every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably, there are thousands, who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.”

Other candidates declined the opportunity to take on Cain. In fact, it was an especially genteel debate — especially compared to the free-for-all fistfight that was in Las Vegas -- with the only real squabbles of the night taking place between Gingrich and CNBC moderator Maria Bartiromo, who snapped back at Gingrich every time he raised one of his now-standard criticisms of the phrasing of questions and the format of the debates.

But one candidate seemed to have gotten a bit too relaxed in the three weeks since the Las Vegas fight night — the longest stretch there been between debates in a while — and if the next polls follow the pundits’ predictions, it may have cost him his presidential dreams.

Rick Perry should have had his strongest moment of the debate when he leaped forward to tout his flat-tax plan.

“It balances the budget in 2020, it does the things to the regulatory climate that have to happen, and I will tell you,” he said, turning to Ron Paul, “it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, education, and then um, what’s the third one there, let’s see. Commerce, edication, and uh, the uh...”

His memory lapse continued for almost 45 seconds. Colleagues suggested the Environmental Protection Agency — but that wasn’t it. Moderators finally questioned whether Perry truly couldn’t name the third agency — he struggled once more, and finally gave up with a “let’s see, I can’t, the third one I can’t. Oops.”

The missing Department — as Perry would triumphantly remind the audience 15 minutes later when the question cycle came around to him again — was Energy, and his memory lapse ironic, given that energy was the only area of the economy Perry ever focused on when discussing how to bring about a jobs recovery, before he got this flat tax worked out, that is.

The gaffe had pundits predicting the death of his presidential aspirations within moments of the debate ending.

As far as Nevada’s concerned, if enough people see the clip, it may pitch him over the edge.

Despite having the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval and the strength of one of Nevada’s most seasoned political operatives heading up his local organization, Perry never could get much traction in the Silver State.

In October, two polls showed Perry running a distinct fifth in the GOP field of eight main candidates. The most recent Democratic poll in Nevada put his local following at just 6 percent, behind Romney (29 percent), Cain (28 percent), Gingrich (15 percent), and Paul (7 percent). The most recent Republican poll put him marginally lower, at 5 percent behind Romney’s 38 percent, Cain’s 26 percent, Gingrich’s 16 percent and Paul’s 7 percent.

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