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.

Gingrich camp heads off ex-wife interview

The Gingrich campaign launched a preemptive strike  as news spread that ABC plans to broadcast a potentially damaging interview with Newt Gingrich’s second ex-wife  on  Thursday –  just two days before Saturday’s crucial South Carolina primary.

Gingrich’s daughters (from his first marriage) Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman came to their father’s defense in a letter released by his presidential campaign.

“The failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everyone involved. Anyone who has had that experience understands it is a personal tragedy filled with regrets, and sometimes differing memories of events,” the daughters said in the letter addressed to ABC News Leadership.

Newt Super PAC imagines Romney-Obama debate

A Pro-Newt Super PAC posted an animated version of how a general debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee would look.

The video titled “Obama’s Dream Debate” shows a cartoon Obama, voiced remarkably well, not only trouncing Romney in a debate but pointing out just how much the two have in common.

Winning Our Future is the same PAC that made a short campaign film attacking Romney as a “corporate raider” while head of Bain Capital, an ad Gingrich eventually asked to be pulled because of inaccuracies.

Washington Extra – The Keystone cudgel

President Obama had until the end of February to make a decision on the Keystone oil sands pipeline, but he made his move today. And, predictably, he rejected the $7 billion project. That keeps him in good standing with his environmental base for November 2012 but creates new tensions with his Republican foes.

Republicans had forced Obama to make a decision in 60 days as part of the deal for the two-month payroll tax cut extension. House Speaker John Boehner quickly reacted to the rejection by saying “all options are on the table” to craft a bill to fight for the pipeline.

But Boehner may not have many options. If the Republicans push for a bill to get approval for Keystone, the president can veto it. If they choose to make it a bargaining chip in talks for a full-year extension of the payroll tax cuts, they will likely meet fierce resistance from Democrats. We are hearing Boehner just wants to seal the payroll tax cut extension and move on after his painful capitulation in the December deal.

Santorum staffer questions whether God wants women presidents

A staffer in Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign is under fire for an email suggesting a female commander-in-chief could be at odds with the Bible’s teachings.

The Des Moines Register last week reported that Santorum’s Iowa coalitions director, Jamie Johnson, sent an email over the summer asking, ‘Is it God’s highest desire, that is, his biblically expressed will … to have a woman rule the institutions of the family, the church, and the state?”

Michele Bachmann, a social conservative who campaigned heavily in Iowa, competed with Santorum over the conservative evangelical vote in the Iowa caucuses. She dropped out of the race after a dismal finish in the Iowa race.

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.

Oops again? Rick Perry revises his list of three departments to cut

Lagging Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry can’t seem to catch a break. The Texas governor is facing criticism across the blogosphere for again flubbing the federal departments he would eliminate if elected.

On a radio show on WTKS in Savannah, Georgia, a listener asked Perry how many and which federal departments he would cut.

“Three right off the bat. You know, commerce, interior, and energy are three that you think of right off…” Perry said, making a point not to miss a beat.

Stephen Colbert: Exploring run for president of USA of South Carolina

Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert announced on his show Thursday night that he is forming an exploratory committee for a “possible candidacy for the president of the United States of South Carolina.”

“This is a difficult decision. I’ve talked it over with my money. I’ve talked it over with my spiritual adviser,” said the comedian who puts on the persona of an ultra-conservative news anchor on his late-night show “The Colbert Report.”

Colbert said he would try to compete in the Republican primary in South Carolina, his home state, on Jan. 21. The filing deadline is long past but Colbert may be able to participate as a write-in candidate.