By: Matt Dornic

Published: November 9, 2011

Candidates be warned: Voters may make housing the make-or-break issue of the 2012 presidential election.

Without a widely supported federal plan to address the nation’s housing crisis, U.S. home owners, builders, and the hundreds of thousands of Americans employed in real estate-reliant industries should keep a close eye on GOP hopefuls and President Obama as the 2012 election cycle moves into full swing. Consistently ranked among top concerns for voters, housing may just be the issue to make or break a candidate’s White House run.

With less than a year remaining before Americans elect the nation’s next president, the housing slump has become a hot source of political ammunition between opponents. But not one has unveiled a real plan to address the ailing market. This could be for one of two reasons: Either prospective Republican nominees have failed to develop their housing platform or because, like Mitt Romney, they don’t intend to intervene.

Either way, housing-related criticism is being lobbed not just at the Obama administration and its imperfect programs, but also at the GOP candidates.

Case in point is a new ad campaign, created by the Democratic National Committee and targeting frontrunner Mitt Romney. Using audio of the former governor saying, “Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process — let it run its course and hit the bottom,” the commercial highlights one piece of a quote from an interview Romney gave to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial board last month.

Although some might argue that Romney’s quote was taken out of context, his “Believe in America Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth” barely touches on housing and instead focuses on tax cuts, less business regulation, and new energy initiatives.

But as foreclosures continue to plague the nation and with approximately 23% of mortgage-holding home owners underwater (as of second quarter 2011), surely some of the presidential hopefuls are addressing the housing sector, right? Here’s what we know about the candidates:

AP reports that Gov. Rick Perry’s fix for housing is to emphasize job creation. A spokesman for the governor said the “immediate remedy for housing is to get America working again. Creating jobs will address the housing concerns that are impacting communities throughout America.”

Like Romney, it seems that Herman Cain’s answer is passive. “We need to get government out of the way,” he said at last month’s debate in Las Vegas.

So far the most thoughtful position came from Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker of the House told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that small banks and removal of needless regulations may be the answer to the mortgage crisis.

”You have to repeal the Dodd-Frank bill because … it dramatically regulates the banks,” Gingrich said. “It sends a signal to the regulators to tell them not to make the loans, not to roll over the money — and in effect, it encourages foreclosures and encourages the bank actually seizing the property.”

“The minute you do that — literally, the minute you do that — it’s going to be easier for people to work their way out. You’ll have a dramatic decline in foreclosures,” he added.

Rep. Michele Bachmann has contributed virtually no plan to address the issue. Her strategy has been one of deflection, saying only that “[the White House] has failed you on this issue of housing and foreclosures. I will not fail you on this issue,” during the same debate.

But now, less than a year from the 2012 elections, a passive or low-profile approach to housing woes won’t sit well with voters. Candidate positions on housing will be important considerations to nearly seven of 10 Americans (69.6%) in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, according to a national survey on housing from Move, Inc.

Look for housing to take center stage as the race for presidency really heats up in the next few months. And don’t be surprised if the first candidate to the finish line is the one who takes housing head on.

How important are housing issues for you in the 2012 presidential election?