Presidential hopefuls remain quiet on subjects related to housing finance reform ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô except when it comes to politics.
With former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trumping former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts) in the South Carolina primary Saturday, the latter went on the attack Monday by reportedly criticizing his opponent for a $1.6-million contract he signed with Freddie Mac to advise the GSE at one time.
What was he doing at Freddie Mac?"" ""CNN quoted Romney as saying before an audience in Florida. The news outlet added claims from Romney that Freddie Mac plays a prominent role in low home values for residents of the Sunshine State.
_The Washington Post_ reports that D.C. lobbyist J.C. Watts, whose firm signed the contract for Gingrich, offered in response that ""the first time I heard Newt Gingrich's name was probably 45 days ago, and that was probably that first week of December, when he was getting hit in Iowa basically saying that he was peddling influence for Freddie Mac.""
News outlets said that Gingrich agreed to release his contract with Freddie Mac to quell concerns in the meantime.
These rows touch on the politics of housing and offer the only such war of words for candidates over the industry, signaling only peripheral discussion of a still-lagging sector of the economy.
Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-Utah), who left the race for the Oval Office last week, drafted one of the only comprehensive reform proposals by pledging to dismantle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, and ""fix"" the Basel III Accords.
Gingrich and Romney made stabs at housing reform earlier
last fall, but neither revived any discussion related to housing until the latter drew up claims that his rival deployed his connections on behalf of the GSE to reap private gain.
Numerous polls and surveys suggest that public appetite remains wet for a meaningful conversation about housing finance reform despite the absence of it this season.
In December the National Association of Realtors released a survey that found about one-third of likely voters want to hear more solutions to the housing crisis from their presidential candidates.
Of some 1,500 respondents polled by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in early January, in another instance, three in four backed a federal role in taxation and policy incentives favorable to homeowners and homebuyers.
""Those running for office in November need to understand that voters will not look kindly on any candidates who seek to dismantle the nation's long-term commitment to homeownership,"" Bob Nielsen, NAHB president and a Reno-based homebuilder, said of the figures in a statement.
Another _Washington Post_ story Monday said that Florida - hardest-hit among several for a foreclosure glut that keeps home construction at bay - could force GOP candidates to debate their solutions to the crisis.
Michele Dickerson, Arthur L. Moller chair in bankruptcy law and policy at the University of Texas Law School, tells us that she doesn't think talk of housing finance reform matters much to the broader electorate or voters in primaries and caucuses outside of hard-hit states like Florida.
""I don't think the general public has a clue about the intricacies of mortgage finance or housing finance,"" she says, calling housing a ""third rail"" in politics, not unlike Social Security.
She says it housing politics comes down to a matter of political will and predicts that something as complicated as the importance of federal guarantees in agency mortgage-backed securities will stay near the sidelines of discussion.
The debate over Fannie and Freddie ""is important, but I don't think that it will be part of any candidate's platform on either side of the aisle,"" she adds.
Several news outlets report officials saying that President Barack Obama will likely touch on housing in his State of the Union address Tuesday.