MITT ROMNEY

Mitt Romney's approach to addressing the housing market has been more devious. Recognizing that a solution to the housing market's woes is more difficult than any of the candidates can really address in a debate, Romney has gone into deflection and diversion mode.

Recognizing that Florida homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages may not take kindly to his previous expressions of a free-market solution, Romney has portrayed himself as being sympathetic and sharing their distress and anger.

Romney's campaign released its first fully negative ad last weekend targeting Gingrich and his past work with Freddie Mac. "While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in," the ad says. "Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis."

During Monday's debate, Romney spent enough time portraying himself as sympathetic to the "suffering" of Florida families while bashing Gingrich that when the debate turned in earnest to the mortgage crisis, Romney had 30 seconds in which he expressed the same free-market views he'd expressed in the past, suggesting the market must regulate itself and be allowed to hit bottom.

"We've got to get the government out of this mess; the government created this mess," he said. He also said the overall economy must recover before housing does. "We have to get the economy going again with people having jobs. You're not going to get housing recovered unless you get jobs going again," he said.

However, Romney's economic advisers disagree. While his adviser Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia Business School, has argued for the reduction of interest rates on home mortgages to strengthen the market, Gregory Mankiw, an economics professor at Harvard University, agrees with the Fed's efforts to ease monetary policy.

Romney also has had a change of heart since the last presidential election, when he faced off with John McCain in Florida for the Republican nomination.

"Helping reverse the housing crisis is critical," Romney said Jan. 24, 2008. "And that's why expanding the Federal Housing Authority's loan requirements -- or, excuse me, if you will, loosening those requirements and expanding the ability of FHA to help out homeowners will make a big difference."

As president, would Romney stick to his current free-market stance? Or fall to the influence of his advisers and return to his past stance that government intervention is necessary?

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