Campaigning in Las Vegas, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Friday gave President Barack Obama an "F" on the economy and proposed a five-point plan to revive the housing market in hard-hit Nevada on the day the unemployment rate ticked up to 12.1 percent.
"We have to reignite the housing economy here so home values will start going up again," Romney said at a rally before more than 3,000 cheering supporters, a capacity crowd packed inside the Cox Pavilion on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.
Romney said he would reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to protect taxpayers from more risk and to provide a long-term, sustainable future for housing finance.
He also said he wanted the government to sell the more than 200,000 vacant, foreclosed homes it owns in neighborhoods where values have dropped as houses have emptied and fallen into disrepair.
"I'll make sure we have them sold so we'll have those homes occupied," Romney said.
The other three measures laid out in his new housing plan would:
Make it easier for homeowners facing foreclosure to conduct short sales, deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure and other options. No details were provided.
Replace the Dodd-Frank Act with "sensible regulation" that could make it easier for banks to approve mortgage loans to families with good credit.
Improve the job market, which Romney called "the best way to help the housing market" by getting people back to work and raising incomes.
Romney said the Dodd-Frank law, which drew boos from the audience, makes it harder for people to get home loans because it requires banks to give out only "qualified" mortgages or face penalties. But he said the "qualified" term isn't defined, making banks stingy and unwilling to give out new loans.
"Bankers don't know if they're going to get in trouble," Romney said. "I will get credit flowing to people who are qualified so we can start moving more homes and raise values."
Romney's visit coincided with a new Nevada jobs report that showed the unemployment rate ticking up to 12.1 percent statewide, the highest in the nation. The report said 165,900 Nevadans are looking for work, which gave Romney fresh fodder to argue that he could do a better job of leading the nation out of the recession.
"We have a president who says he can't fix Washington," Romney said. "I can. I will lead. I will get the job done."
The former Massachusetts governor's visit drew a slap from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who attacked Romney for seeming to dismiss 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax, saying they wouldn't vote for him. The videotaped remarks made in May during a private fundraiser leaked this week.
"I take offense to him coming here and thinking the people of Nevada are clueless as to what he has talked about," Reid said in a telephone conference call with reporters arranged by the Obama campaign.
The 47 percent include the "valiant airmen" at Creech Air Force Base, senior citizens and those without jobs, Reid said, adding it was "rich" that Romney would complain about people not paying taxes when he won't make public his filings from years past as other presidential candidates have done.
On Friday, Romney released his 2011 return with a summary of his tax liability for a 20-year period from 1990 to 2009. He previously had disclosed his 2010 return. Romney paid an effective tax rate of about 14 percent last year and more than 20 percent during the two decades, according to his campaign.
The Senate majority leader also repeated complaints that Romney opposed assisting Nevada homeowners, saying last year that the market should be allowed to "hit bottom."
Romney's housing plan seemed aimed at repairing any damage one month before early voting starts Oct. 20 in Nevada. Nevada is among a dozen states the candidates are focused on as key to victory.
At the lively rally, Romney called job creation "the ultimate way to get home prices" rising again.
Romney said his economic plan would create 12 million jobs over four years by encouraging energy development and small-business entrepreneurs and by shifting federal dollars for job training to the states so each one could create tailor-made programs to suit their communities.
Now, about 60 percent of Nevada homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth, and tens of thousands have lost their homes and life savings to foreclosures.
The Romney campaign and Republicans argue Obama failed to act quickly enough to deal with the housing crisis when he took office in 2009. Also, critics say the programs he has launched to help people stay in their homes and get lower interest rates and payments have been inadequate.
In a nod to the local economy and a dig at Obama, Romney drew loud cheers when he said as president he would urge people to come to Las Vegas, which relies on tourist and gaming spending. Obama once said companies shouldn't waste money by holding conventions in Las Vegas.
"You're going to have a president that encourages people to come to Las Vegas for company meetings and not to stay home or go somewhere else," Romney said during his 20-minute speech.
Romney said he is counting on his supporters to turn out the vote come Election Day so that he can return America to its entrepreneurial ways and stop the expansion of government.
"We're going to make it happen," he said to loud cries and foot- stomping from the crowd, which waved Romney campaign signs. "I need you to get me elected in November."
The rally came after Romney met privately with contributors, seeking their financial help to win. During the meeting, he made the case that Obama has failed the leadership test. Recently, the president said he would give himself an "incomplete" grade on the economy, Romney said.
"I give him an F instead," Romney added, speaking at the private lunch to a well-heeled crowd. "I don't see how you can look at his record and give him anything but an F."
At the rally and at the fundraiser, Romney said Obama had given up, referring to comments the president made on Thursday that "you can't fix Washington from inside."
Romney said Obama "raised the white flag of surrender."
"That's great because he's going to get that chance in a moment," Romney said, delivering the biggest applause line to the pricey crowd at Red Rock Resort.
Romney said he would do a better job leading the country than Obama.
"To have Democrats and Republicans come together requires leadership from the top," he said. "When I go to Washington, I will lead and we will finally get America back on top."
Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson was in the front row of the fundraiser inside TBones Chophouse. Also there: the Fertittas, Frank and Lorenzo, who own Station Casinos.
The 250 donors gave from $2,500 to $25,000 each for Romney's campaign.
Obama, campaigning in Virginia, on Friday mocked Romney and tried to turn the tables on the inside vs. outside debate. He said Romney declared he would "get the job done from the inside."
"What kind of inside job is he talking about?" Obama said. "Is it the job of rubber-stamping the top-down, you're-on-your-own agenda of this Republican Congress? Because if it is, we don't want it. ... We don't want an inside job in Washington. We want change in Washington."
Friday's stop was Romney's sixth visit to Nevada since April, when he became the presumptive GOP nominee. In all, Romney has come to Nevada 16 times in the past two years.
Obama has visited Nevada seven times this year and 14 times as president, a White House record.
The race in Nevada and nationwide is considered too close to call, although most state and national polls show Obama leading Romney, who is struggling to gain traction.
A new CNN poll of likely voters in the Silver State released Thursday showed the president edging the former Massachusetts governor, 49 percent to 46 percent. The survey had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
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