Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The four remaining Republican presidential candidates have lept at every opportunity to distinguish themselves from one another on most economic issues, trading jabs on jobs plans, tax plans and health care plans as they’ve made their way through Nevada.
But when it comes to housing — potentially the most potent economic issue in Las Vegas, where over 70 percent of home loans are underwater — the candidates have eschewed detailed plans to take on the crisis, apparently willing to let their similar positions blend together.
That common position essentially boils down to a two-word phrase: “Free market,” meaning no government-assisted mortgage modification, maybe a few tax breaks, but direct and proactive help is not on the way.
“Be careful what you ask for. As Nevadans, for the federal government to come and help bail you out, to help provide for you, to give you a right to housing,” Rick Santorum told a group of Nevada Republicans at his first campaign event in Nevada on Tuesday night.
“No thank you!” called out one of his supporters, while the rest clapped for the senator’s anti-plan.
“Although it’s very easy to look at the housing crisis in Nevada and particularly Las Vegas and say, ‘That is the issue: All we have to do is wave a wand, give somebody some money and solve the housing trouble,’ it isn’t the answer,” Ron Paul told supporters Wednesday. “The principles that everybody has a right to a house ... all those programs that were designed for houses, people have lost their houses.”
Cries of, “President Paul, President Paul,” were the ultimate reception to that speech.
“People always ask me here in Nevada, ‘What are you going to do about housing?’ My first thing is repeal the Dodd-Frank bill, and overnight it’ll be easier to get a housing loan ... and you will see a dramatic improvement of the matter in a very short time,” Newt Gingrich said at his first Las Vegas event Thursday morning, entirely sidestepping the issue of existing foreclosures.
Mitt Romney seems to have learned a thing or two since his last appearance in Las Vegas, when he said the market should just be allowed “to bottom out.”
He gave Nevada’s housing crisis lip service during a very brief endorsement ceremony with Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon: “So many people have their homes underwater, it’s extraordinary,” he said.
It isn’t that the candidates are unaware of the impact housing has in Nevada’s political climate: Romney supporters have focused their attacks on Gingrich, who is currently second in Nevada polls, on his history consulting for Freddie Mac to the tune of $1.6 million over several years, money they say puts Gingrich in kahoots with the banks that made bad loans.
It doesn’t seem to be upsetting voters: Not one person we spoke with at rallies for Santorum, Paul, Gingrich and Romney listed “housing” among the top issues they want Republican candidates to address.
There could be a good reason for that. While many in Washington note that Nevadans are contending with the worst foreclosure crisis in the nation, Washington programs haven’t done much to correct Nevada’s problem.
The Treasury Department’s premiere mortgage modification program excluded the average troubled Nevada homeowner for being too bad off for over two years before the terms were changed to allow all underwater loan holders to apply. The president’s more recent proposals to expand mortgage modifications have still left many Nevadans out of luck, however, as only homeowners who are current on payments are eligible — and many Nevadans fall behind in a last-ditch attempt to get banks to make a deal.
Still, as unsatisfactory as many of the federal attempts to ameliorate Nevada’s foreclosure situation may be, local politicians in both parties have encouraged lawmakers in Congress to do more to address the problem.
Those advocates include Democrats, who criticize the Republican candidates — especially Romney — for being willing to let the housing market slide until it can ride the wave of recovery, whether or not it ruins the local economy in the process.
“The state of Nevada continues to face the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. President Barack Obama understands this and is taking steps to stabilize the housing market. ... The last time Mitt Romney was in Nevada, he had the audacity to say that we should let the foreclosure process ‘hit the bottom’ and that we should do nothing to help struggling families about to lose their homes,” said state Sen. Steven Horsford, who is running to represent the country’s worst foreclosure ZIP code in Congress next year. “Struggling middle-class families need real economic relief, and Mitt Romney hasn’t proposed a single new idea to give it to them.”
Those advocates include Nevada’s Republican governor, whose deputy is also Romney’s state campaign co-chair.
“I think [Romney’s] presence here, walking those neighborhoods most devastated by foreclosures, I think he absolutely cares,” Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said of Romney’s stance on housing.
But when asked if he agreed with Romney’s trickle-down, hands-off approach to correcting the foreclosure crisis, it proved to be a question he would rather not address.
“I think we’re done here,” Krolicki responded.