Will GOP candidates ignore Nevada's struggles during debate?

June Rogovsky participates in a "Occupy Wall Street"demonstration, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, in Las Vegas. Union officials, college students and homeowners facing foreclosure marched down the Las Vegas Strip in support of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

occupy wall street, Las Vegas
June Rogovsky participates in a "Occupy Wall Street"demonstration, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, in Las Vegas. Union officials, college students and homeowners facing foreclosure marched down the Las Vegas Strip in support of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The scrappy state of Nevada, eager for attention from political leaders who could hold the answers to its economic problems, has finagled its way near the top of the primary calendar and tonight hosts the eighth Republican presidential debate.

Tonight's debate, sponsored by CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference, is intended to bring a special focus to issues that matter in the West. In Nevada, nothing is more pressing than the record unemployment and foreclosure rates.

With the implosion of the housing market and the development boom in in the Silver State, Nevada -- and Las Vegas in particular -- became "the epicenter of the Great Recession," as Las Vegas Sun columnist J. Patrick Coolican wrote. Nevada's 13.4 percent unemployment is the highest in the nation, and the state ranks first in foreclosures. More than 80 percent of Las Vegas homeowners are underwater, Coolican points out, and September home prices were 8.6 percent lower than the year before.

Nevada residents are searching for a way out of their economic misery, but so far the GOP candidates have given them little reason for optimism.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the current GOP presidential frontrunner, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week that the solution to the housing crisis is to let the market bottom out.

"Don't try and stop the foreclosure process, let it run its course and hit the bottom," he said. "Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up."

He went on to say the Obama administration has "slow-walked the foreclosure process" and "as a result we still have a foreclosure overhead."

Romney said the idea of helping people refinance their homes so they can stay in them is "one worth further consideration," but he added, "I'm not signing on until I find out who's going to pay and who's going to get bailed out."

That answer may be one of the more substantive statements Nevadans have heard from the candidates on the issue, if not the most comforting. The housing crisis has been all but ignored by the candidates, the Los Angeles Times reports -- with hardly any mention on any of the candidates' websites and few remarks about it on the campaign trail.

Even Romney -- who won the 2008 Nevada caucus and is campaigning hard in the state again -- made no mention of the housing crisis in his 59-point jobs plan, which he unveiled at a North Las Vegas trucking company.

The remarks other candidates have offered have been similar to what Romney told the Review-Journal. The Las Vegas Sun notes that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (who's not participating in tonight's debate) has called for privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and letting "the housing market settle in order to see sustainable growth." Rep. Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, has urged the "repeal of the jobs and housing destruction act, also known as Dodd-Frank." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul also want the law repealed, while Paul has said the federal government should let the market handle sinking home prices.

The candidates have paid about as much attention to voters in Nevada as they have to their issues. Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul held rallies in Nevada on Monday, the Sun notes.

Meanwhile, the state's attempt at earning more relevancy in the primaries may have backfired. By moving up the date of their caucuses and helping send the entire primary calendar off-kilter, Nevada Republicans have seriously angered their GOP brethren in New Hampshire, who are urging the candidates to boycott's Nevada's caucuses.

Huntsman was the first to declare he'd boycott the state, and Bachmann, Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum have followed suit.

Perhaps the candidates have said little on the housing crisis because the situation looks so dreary: experts say Nevada's housing market and building industry could take decades to recover, the L.A. Times notes.

Voters aren't much more optimistic: A Las Vegas Sun poll conducted in September found that 77 percent of Nevadans think the state is headed in the wrong direction, and 57 percent said the worst is yet to come.

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