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It's become a truism that the 1990s produced the best economy since apples and fig leaves were dispensed free of charge in the Garden of Eden. On the other hand, based on the turmoil in the real estate and credit markets, we assume the first decade of this century has been Armageddon.

In honor of Tuesday's presidential election, let's take a look at which commander in chief - Bill Clinton or George W. Bush - presided over the best eight years for real estate in the Tampa Bay area.

To measure each man's relative achievement, we'll use the well- regarded S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, which tracks home values back to 1987. Here are the findings:

Under Bill Clinton, who skippered the economy from January 1993 to January 2001, home prices in the Tampa Bay area rose 36.5 percent. That's an average price appreciation of 4.6 percent during his tenure.

So how did Bush do? After all, he's universally reviled this election season as possessing a Midas touch in reverse: Everything he touches turns to tarnish.

Home prices have risen 57.3 percent in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater since Bush took office in January 2001. That's about 7 percent a year, even after accounting for the head-first dive the market has performed the past two years.

Times are tough for real estate, and we'll probably have to tough it out another year. But the market's been in the toilet so long we sometimes fail to see over the rim of the bowl. An unobstructed view suggests that home prices have exceeded historical appreciation during the past eight years.

Interestingly, Bush's real estate record crushed Clinton's in places like Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and Miami. But Clinton walloped Bush in markets like Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Minneapolis. It all depends on the timing of each region's boom or bust.

Whoever is elected, he'll struggle to duplicate the relative success of Clinton or Bush. Most analysts don't expect solid home appreciation until 2011. You shouldn't look to Washington to buy a home anyway.