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By Jon Prior
10/31/12 5:11 AM EDT
The election, like real estate, is all about location, location, location.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day the campaigns of both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been focusing on a handful of states — such as Ohio, Iowa and Florida — that could determine who wins the White House.
If the trend holds, one topic that will continue to be avoided in the final days is housing, an issue that has weighed heavily on the economy but an area where both campaigns have trod lightly.
But in what could be a good sign for Obama, the housing markets in some of the most hotly contested states are improving faster than national numbers show.
It’s another economic data point that is slowly brightening for the president in battleground states.
Home values and foreclosures are at healthier levels in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin than averages across the country.
Prize electorate states Ohio and Florida, two of the hardest hit by the housing crash in 2007, are still worse off than much of the nation, but home equity and the amount of homeowners making timely mortgage payments are returning from their recession lows, data show.
The question for Obama is whether this improvement is coming too late and too slowly to win him points with voters who have struggled with the housing downturn.
"It's encouraging to Obama voters and Romney voters are ignoring it,” said Dick Bennett, president of the polling firm American Research Group, based in New Hampshire. “People still don't see a large-enough recovery that it's moving big blocks of voters."
To some homeowner advocates and liberal groups the question of whether the housing recovery is good enough to help Obama is a question the president could have avoided.
They argue the recovery could have been on a much steeper trajectory if Obama had been more aggressive during his administration in pushing for aid to struggling homeowners, particularly through programs to reduce loan balances for those hardest hit by the economic downturn.
"We're always, always bailing out the largest companies instead of homeowners. When Obama campaigned, he campaigned as a populist, and that's what's so infuriating," said Roy Oppenheim, a foreclosure defense attorney for Florida homeowners, talking about the 2008 campaign. "If he loses, he will lose because of housing."
Obama has repeatedly highlighted the amount of foreclosures these programs prevented and continues to call on Congress to pass legislation introduced this year to help more underwater borrowers refinance.
But neither campaign has specifics on reforms, especially for how the private market would replace taxpayer-supported mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
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