LAS VEGAS — Mitt Romney came to the state with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation and said he wants to allow home foreclosures to "hit the bottom" to help the housing industry recover.
In an interview published Tuesday ahead of presidential debate, Romney told Las Vegas Review Journal's editorial board that solving the foreclosure crisis would require letting banks proceed against homeowners who have defaulted on their mortgages. New investors could then rent out the homes until markets adjusted.
"As to what to do for the housing industry specifically and are there things that you can do to encourage housing: One is, don't try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom," Romney said.
Romney elaborated during the presidential debate Tuesday night. "The idea of the federal government running around and saying, 'We're going to give you some money for trading in your old car...or we're going to keep banks from foreclosing if you can't make your payments," Romney said, "The right course is to let markets work."
Nevada, where seven of the presidential candidates are debating, has the country's highest foreclosure rate and the nation's highest unemployment rate.
Democrats immediately criticized Romney as out of touch with middle class Americans, many of whom are struggling to hold on to their homes amid high unemployment.
"Mitt Romney's message to Nevada homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage bills is simple: You're on your own, so step aside," President Barack Obama's reelection campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said in a statement. "This is just one more indication that while he will bend over backwards to preserve tax breaks for large corporations and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, Mitt Romney won't lift a finger to restore economic security for the middle class."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada also went after Romney. "Nevada has the highest foreclosure rate in America, and it has for almost three years. And here's what Mitt Romney said: He would just let them hit rock bottom," Reid said during a press conference in the U.S. Capitol. "I don't know what's more graphic than that, in how we have different views of what the world should be like than our Republican friends."
But the home foreclosure issue has been almost entirely absent from the GOP presidential race. While it was mentioned during the presidential debate Tuesday, and Romney addressed it as part of a larger answer, the candidates quickly started talking about bank bailouts instead.