Conservatives are crowing this morning that Mitt Romney actually won the debate, because he painted a vivid picture of the grim Obama economy, and again made the case for his five point plan, which isn’t actually a plan at all. As I tweeted yesterday, Romney is indeed at his best when he’s reciting stats about the state of the economy. Despite this, I believe Obama won the debate for a host of reasons. But we won’t know for some time what the polling will have to say on the matter.

Either way, this morning’s news about the housing market comes at a very bad time for those who are hoping that Romney made strides last night with his argument that this isn’t a real recovery:

U.S. builders started construction on homes in September at the fastest rate since July 2008, a further indication that the housing recovery is strengthening and could help the economy grow.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders broke ground on single-family homes and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000 in September. That’s an increase of 15 percent from the August level...

“If there was any doubt that the housing market was undergoing a recovery, even a modest one in the face of the terrible 2008 decline, those doubts should be erased by now,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG.

Jared Bernstein, a former White House economist who is sometimes willing to criticize the administration, says this indicates more positive news about the recovery.

“The recovery has never had the foundation of a more solid housing market to support it,” Bernstein says. “The fact that it seems to be taking shape is a positive for the recovery.”

Bernstein adds that the improving housing market helps explain why economic confidence numbers have been improving lately. “Romney’s argument that this recovery is a complete bust is going to have less traction than it would otherwise,” he says. “I don’t think that actually reflects how many people are feeling about it.”

Which brings me back to a question I’ve been asking here: Does the Obama campaign need to push a bit harder in selling the idea that the economy is recovering?

The Obama camp is up with several new ads claiming in roundabout ways that the economy is getting better. And Obama did aggressively defend his economic record at the debate yesterday. But again, Romney is very, very good when reciting his fusillade of statistics about the Obama economy. And Romney and his allies are absolutely nuking the swing states with ads that paint a dire picture of widespread economic suffering and that brazenly distort the unemployment statistics to do so. I still wonder if news like today’s about the housing market could be seized on to make a more concerted case that things are, indeed, getting better.


UPDATE: Okay. On the trail today, Obama did make a strong case that the economy is recovering — note his discussion of the housing market and the trajectory of the unemployment rate: