As GOP race reaches Fla., economy dominates

By Curt Anderson

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

— More than 2 percent of all Florida housing units were involved in foreclosure last year, according to the RealtyTrac foreclosure listing service. That translated in December to one in every 360 units, placing Florida at No. 7 among states with the highest 2011 foreclosure rates. And 2012 is forecast to be even busier.

—Florida is third in the number of homes with "upside down" mortgages, at 44 percent of all mortgaged properties, according to the CoreLogic real estate data firm. That works out to slightly less than 2 million Florida homes where the owners owe more than the properties are worth.

For many people whose home is by far their biggest investment, the housing problem is believed to be dragging down confidence and the state's recovery as a whole. Said Mark Fleming, chief economist at CoreLogic: "This overhang is holding back the recovery of the housing market and the broader economy."

It's all causing indecision — if not confusion — among Florida's pivotal swing voters.

Hollywood resident Phillip James, 48, is a libertarian-leaning independent who says he cannot support Obama. "I think he has just broken too many promises," James said. But he's also suspicious that the wealthy Romney with an "aristocratic air" may favor the rich too much in his economic proposals, adding: "I don't think he has a grasp of the position of the middle class, the conditions of the working class today."

Peter Gonzalez, a registered Democrat from Miami who voted for McCain, seemed just as confounded.

He was leaning toward Romney, and assuming that the former Massachusetts governor will be the GOP nominee, but said he hadn't given up on Obama

"With Obama, I kind of know what I got." Gonzalez said. He predicted: "If the economy gets stronger, and the unemployment rate gets better, it's going to be difficult to beat Obama. Because people vote with their wallet."

Even at this early date, it's not too hard to see how Obama and the eventual Republican nominee may try to make their cases.

Obama may try to gain traction by stressing "the Republican policies that contributed to the economic problems the country is facing and make the case that the economy is improving, and jobs are growing, and that the situation would be much worse if Obama had not taken the actions he had," said Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor.

As for Republicans, Jewett added: "The GOP nominee needs to continually focus on the simple theme: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

Associated Press writer Laura Wides-Munoz contributed to this report.

Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

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