'Joe the Plumber' Becomes a Fixture

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008

The American myth of the Ordinary Joe became a real living person from Toledo, Ohio, last night, when "Joe the Plumber" kept popping up in the final presidential debate between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.

McCain wasted little time in mentioning an encounter on a rope line between Obama and the burly, lantern-jawed, shaven-headed plumber Joe Wurzelbacher this week. McCain went on to mention him repeatedly, and Obama resorted to addressing Wurzelbacher directly as well.

By night's end, CBS's Bob Schieffer declared Wurzelbacher the debate's big winner.

Wurzelbacher's star turn began two days ago when he shook hands with Obama and declared he wants to buy the business he works for, adding that its income -- which he said is in the range of $250,000 to $280,000 a year -- would make it the recipient of a tax hike under Obama's proposals.

"Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?" Wurzelbacher asked.

The encounter, captured on video, went straight to Fox News, where Wurzelbacher said Obama told him he wanted to "redistribute wealth." Wurzelbacher called that "kind of a socialist viewpoint."

The two candidates last night went straight for Joe's vote.

"Joe, I want to tell you, I'll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and I'll keep your taxes low and I'll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees," McCain promised.

Obama said, "Not only do 98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000, but I also want to give them additional tax breaks, because they are the drivers of the economy."

There has been a big media market for the plumber in recent days. On Tuesday, just a day after his Obama handshake, Wurzelbacher told Fox News host Neil Cavuto that he lives in a "simple middle-class home" and doesn't want to upgrade because he'd rather put his money into his business.

"I don't want to keep up with the Joneses, and two, I just couldn't really afford a bigger house. I'm going to have to work harder to make that company go. I want to put more trucks on the road, and his tax increases kind of hurts that aspect," he said.

Joe the Plumber also quickly materialized on some conservative blogs, including one called Family Security Matters, where he questioned the wisdom of government programs that help the poor.

Asked whether he feared that America would turn "down the socialist road" if Obama were elected, the plumber said: "Very much so. You start giving people stuff, and then they start expecting it -- and that scares me."

Despite the plunge into the national media pool, he claimed surprise Wednesday night at his cameo role in the presidential debate. Contacted by the Associated Press, Joe said, "It's pretty surreal, man, my name being mentioned in a presidential campaign."

The Washington Post was unable to reach Wurzelbacher and was unable to verify whether he is a licensed plumber through a search of the database of the Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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