TAMPA - Mitt Romney sat down with eight Tampa Bay residents suffering the side effects of a sagging housing market at a round table discussion this morning.
As each person recounted their struggles with banks, lenders, mortgages, loans and employment, the Republican presidential candidate expressed his sympathies, calling the accounts "just tragic" and said they "break my heart."
He blamed regulatory laws for paralyzing banks and vowed to focus on job creation if elected.
"The banks are scared to death ... they're feeling the same thing you're feeling," he said to the group at the Sheraton Riverwalk in downtown Tampa.
In a news conference following the discussion, Romney emphasized opponent Newt Gingrich's ties to mortgage lender Freddie Mac and declared that the former House speaker's consulting work was a thinly veiled lobbying effort.
"Saying that Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist is just a matter of fact," Romney said. "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."
He added that Gingrich "ought to give back" the money he made as a Freddie Mac consultant.
Romney planned no more public events before tonight's GOP debate at USF Tampa. Sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, NBC News, National Journal and the Florida Council of 100, the 9 p.m. debate can be watched live on NBC.