By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — As the GOP primary brawl turned to Nevada, President Barack Obama on Wednesday seemed to want to in on the fight.
While the Republican candidates were still heading west, fresh off the Florida primary, Obama took direct aim at GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney on the issue most potent to Nevada voters — foreclosures and housing. While not uttering Romney by name, the president called him out on a remark Democrats have been itching to use against the former Massachusetts governor.
In October, Romney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the housing market needed to “hit the bottom” before it could recover. Obama quickly dismissed that notion.
“It is wrong for anybody to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. I refuse to accept that, and so do the American people,” he told a crowd in Northern Virginia.
To underscore the message, the White House outlined details of a new housing plan aimed at helping out struggling homeowners. The centerpiece of the plan, which faces a tough road to approval in Congress, is an expansion of the administration’s refinancing efforts announced last fall for loans owned by government-owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In Las Vegas, where Republicans will caucus on Saturday, more than half of homeowners owe more to the bank than their homes are worth.
The back-and-forth is yet another example of the how the White House is preparing to run against Romney, even as the GOP race promises to stumble on and Romney rival Newt Gingrich vows to continue his campaign. Many of the president’s political moves and remarks set a clear contrast with his most likely rival.
Last week, Obama called for millionaires to pay more in taxes, a minimum of 30 percent, highlighting Romney’s 14 percent tax rate. In his State of the Union speech, Obama argued that such a plan wasn’t a sign of “envy,” something Romney has suggested. On Tuesday, at an auto show in Washington, Obama touted his decision to bailout the now-recovering auto industry in 2009, a choice Romney criticized.
“The fact that GM is back to No. 1 I think shows the kind of turnaround that’s possible when it comes to American manufacturing,” Obama said. “It’s good to remember the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die.”