TAMPA, Florida—While the economy is the leading issue for Republican voters nationwide, here in Florida, the issue is virtually inseparable from the housing crisis, which has left a trail of vacant and decaying houses and desperate residents clinging to their underwater homes.
But the Republican front-runners -- skeptical of government intervention in the economy -- have avoided offering any concrete plans to improve the situation for the hundreds of thousands of Floridians in foreclosure, and the many more struggling to make their mortgage payments.
President Barack Obama has pushed to make it easier for underwater borrowers to refinance their homes — an effort that has been met with mixed success, but is a bolder plan than the hazy nostrums put forward by his Republican opponents.
Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have targeted government regulation — especially the Dodd-Frank financial reform law — as the first step toward getting the housing market back on track.
"Nothing will help Florida housing better than repealing Dodd-Frank," Gingrich said today in Sarasota. “The banks aren’t bad people,” Romney added in Lehigh Acres, among the hardest hit areas of the state. “They’re just overwhelmed right now.”
After that, it’s blind faith that both candidates can create jobs, and give people the incomes they need to make payments on their homes.
But even campaign surrogates and staff admit that these plans are weak.
Asked why Romney doesn’t have more substantive plan, campaign surrogate and Florida Senate candidate Rep. Connie Mack retorted: “Where’s Newt’s?”
After repeating Gingrich's standard line about regulation and getting the economy going again, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said: “We have ours — it’s out there in the ether.”