Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Home alone

When it comes to fixing the housing market in this election year, it’s a battle between the “ineffective” and the “do-nothing.”

President Obama’s relief measures for homeowners facing foreclosure have fallen far short of objectives. Republican candidates, meanwhile, prefer to let the marketplace work its magic. Prices will then hit bottom and begin to recover.

The hands-off approach might not cause too much damage to Republicans in South Carolina. But when the race moves to foreclosure-heavy states such as Florida and Nevada, Republican candidates could find themselves having to explain why they don’t want to help any homeowners.

Obama can’t show much in the way of results, but he can reveal a bit of a heart. And he’ll get another chance to show that in next week’s State of the Union, where he is expected to offer another gesture of support for troubled homeowners.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

South Carolina debate critical for Romney as Gingrich looms

Republican presidential candidates meet again for perhaps the most crucial debate yet in the 2012 campaign, with front-runner Mitt Romney beginning to look shaky and likely to face fire from nearest challenger Newt Gingrich. It is the final chance for rivals to chip away at Romney’s lead in South Carolina ahead of the primary vote.

Perry stands ground on Turkey

Given an opportunity to revise (back down or retract) his comments he made in Monday’s Republican debate linking Turkey to “Islamic terrorists,” Texas Governor Rick Perry stood his ground on Tuesday.

The Republican presidential candidate made no apology for nearly touching off an international incident with his take on the long-time U.S. ally. Perry defended his view in a CNN interview, hours after Turkey’s response.

Here’s the video:

Rick Perry lags in home state of Texas

Tuesday only got worse for Texas Governor Rick Perry whose comments about Turkey in a debate last night got him lambasted by foreign policy experts, the Turkish press, and the Turkish government in Ankara.

Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, polled only third in a survey of his fellow Longhorn Republicans, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Less than a fifth of those polled by the Democratic polling firm, Public Policy Polling said they would choose Perry over his rivals. He lagged frontrunner Mitt Romney  as well as former Speaker of the House Gingrich.

Reuters Washington Extra – Behind the numbers

At last night’s debate, Mitt Romney said he’d be happy to release his tax returns in April. But today he disclosed a crucial piece of information as the clamor grew for him to come out with his returns. The frontrunner to clinch the Republican nomination has a tax rate that “is probably closer to 15 percent than anything.”

That’s a low rate, but it is in line with what is paid by wealthy Americans who earn much of their income from capital gains, which are taxed at 15 percent. So, now the number is out and we will see how American voters (and wage earners) react.

Another interesting number from Romney today concerned speaker fees, which he says he collects “from time to time, but not very much.”  Campaign financial disclosure forms indicate that Romney was paid more than $374,000 in speaker fees from February 2010 to February 2011. Not very much, if you are Mitt Romney.

Roemer camp pressures networks, pollsters in search of “Roementum”

Former Louisiana governor and Republican presidential hopeful Buddy Roemer is turning up the heat on his opponents: polling companies and national television networks. Roemer, who was in Congress longer than Michele Bachmann and was a governor for as long as Mitt Romney, has yet to be invited to a single Republican debate. That’s because the national television networks determine who gets invited to their debates based on a shifting set of polling criteria, and they have yet to

Perry attacks more conservative rivals, ignores Romney

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s latest ads don’t even bother attacking Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney. With polls showing him in fifth place among Republicans in Iowa and seventh in New Hampshire, Perry’s aim is now to emerge as one of the top two conservative options to Romney.

To get there, he needs to knock off some of the other candidates polling immediately in front of him — which is why his latest TV ad in Iowa attacks Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, but doesn’t mention Romney.

“The fox guarding the hen house is like asking a congressman to fix Washington,” the ad’s narrator says. “Bad idea. Their years in Congress left us with debt and bailouts.”

Mitt Romney, car nut

Perhaps it’s no surprise to know that Mitt Romney is a car nut.

After all, Romney grew up in Michigan, where his father, George, once ran American Motors Corporation before becoming the state’s governor and launching his own failed bid for the White House.

Romney talked about his cars at campaign stops in Lancaster and Randolph, New Hampshire – and even offered to buy a classic car.

At Lowe’s, a gas station/convenience store in Randolph, Romney gassed up his tour bus with $69.90 in diesel fuel. In the store, surrounded by photos of famous visitors to the remote North Country location, he joked with one of the owners about how he would like to buy her classic “Nash Metropolitan” car, a photo of which was pinned to the wall.

Romney reveals his debate card, says inheritance given away

During Rick Perry’s now infamous “oops” moment at a Republican debate last month, the Texas governor gave a panicked glance at his cue card to see if it held the name of the third agency of government he vowed to eliminate. It did not.

Today Mitt Romney told Reuters’ Steve Holland and Jim Gaines about his own debate card. Romney says he writes “Dad” on his card “just to remember a person who, if he’s able to watch, I’m sure he is.”

Romney said he also tries to remind himself not to focus his attacks in primary debates on his fellow Republicans:

In New Hampshire, fringe candidates get their moment


Bipartisanship flourishes among fringe candidates. Democrat Vermin Supreme and Republican Hugh Cort share a laugh before Monday night’s debate at Saint Anselm College.

New Hampshire voters looking for something different got to size up some other presidential candidates on Monday night. The questions were pointed, the answers often succinct, sensible and serious. But some of the platforms were narrowly focused and, well, a bit wacky.

“I’m here to tell you about thorium, an overlooked energy alternative,” said Robert Greene, a Democrat from Mountain View, California. “If politicians are having any discussion that does not include thorium, they have not had a serious energy discussion.”

As Iowa finishline nears, Perry compares self to Tebow

In the final debate before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Perry compared himself to Tim Tebow, the most-talked about quarterback in the NFL.

At the debate in Sioux City, the Texas governor said he was hoping to stage a late-game comeback — just like the Denver Broncos quarterback who has thrilled fans (and defied critics) with a string of wins after trailing in the fourth quarter.

“You know, there are a lot of people out there — I understand it. There are a lot of folks that said Tim Tebow wasn’t going to be a very good NFL quarterback.