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Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher

Wurzelbacher speaking in Elyria, Ohio, United States
Born December 3, 1973 (1973-12-03) (age 36)
Residence Holland, Ohio, United States
Other names "Joe the Plumber"
Citizenship United States
Occupation Commentator/correspondent
Former plumber's assistant

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (pronounced /ˈwɜrtsəlbɑːkər/; born December 3, 1973), famously dubbed Joe the Plumber,[1] is a resident of Ohio, United States who gained significant attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. As an employee of a plumbing contractor,[2] he was given the moniker "Joe the Plumber" after he was videotaped questioning then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama about his small business tax policy during a campaign stop in Ohio. The Republican McCain-Palin campaign later applied "Joe the Plumber" as a metaphor for middle-class Americans.[3][4] He subsequently published a book about his experiences, and has appeared as a motivational speaker and commentator.


Involvement in the presidential election of 2008

Encounter with Barack Obama

On October 12, 2008, three days before the final presidential debate, Obama met residents in Wurzelbacher's Ohio neighborhood.[5] Wurzelbacher, who had been playing football with his son in his front yard at the time, asked Obama about his tax plan.[6] As ABC News cameraman Scott Shulman recorded the conversation, Wurzelbacher suggested that Obama's tax plan would be at odds with "the American dream."[7] Wurzelbacher said, "I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year. Your new tax plan's going to tax me more, isn't it?"[8]

Obama responded with an explanation of how his tax plan would affect a small business in this bracket. Obama said, "If you're a small business, which you would qualify, first of all, you would get a 50 percent tax credit so you'd get a cut in taxes for your health care costs. So you would actually get a tax cut on that part. If your revenue is above 250, then from 250 down, your taxes are going to stay the same. It is true that, say for 250 up — from 250 to 300 or so, so for that additional amount, you’d go from 36 to 39 percent, which is what it was under Bill Clinton."[9]

Obama also said, "It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance at success, too… My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off [...] if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."[10][11]

Presidential debate

During the third and final Presidential debate on October 15, 2008, at Hofstra University, many references were made to "Joe the Plumber."[12] In the debate, McCain repeatedly brought up "Joe the Plumber" and Obama and McCain then made statements aimed directly at Wurzelbacher. As a result, subsequent media attention was directed at Wurzelbacher.[13][14][15]

After the debate, Wurzelbacher did not declare his vote for either candidate. He expressed concern that Obama's plans were "one step closer to socialism."[16] Obama's running mate Joe Biden argued that 98% of small businesses take in less than $250,000 a year in income and thus wouldn't be subject to higher taxes under Obama's plan. McCain stated that Wurzelbacher would see higher taxes under Obama's plan.[17]

2008 media appearances

Wurzelbacher spoke to Katie Couric of CBS Evening News on October 15, shortly after the conclusion of the final debate. Asked whether Obama's proposed $250,000 tax threshold would affect him, Wurzelbacher replied: "Not right now at presently, but (...) he's going to do that now for people who make $250,000 a year. When's he going to decide that $100,000 is too much? (...) You're on a slippery slope here. You vote on somebody who decides that $250,000 and you're rich? And $100,000 and you're rich? (...) Where does it end?"[18] He also said, “I asked the question but I still got a tap dance ...almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr.[18]

Wurzelbacher held a press conference at his home on the morning of October 16, following the debates, where he refused to express support for either candidate. "I'm not telling anybody anything" about which candidate he prefers, he said, adding, "It's a private booth. I want the American people to vote for who they want to vote for."[19]

On October 16, Wurzelbacher appeared on Your World with Neil Cavuto on Fox News. Neil Cavuto asked if Wurzelbacher was persuaded by Obama's plan. Wurzelbacher said that he was not and that he was more frightened upon hearing it. Wurzelbacher suggested that Obama's plan was socialist in nature.[7]

That same day, Wurzelbacher also appeared on Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer asked him if he was taking home $250,000 now, Wurzelbacher said with a laugh "No, not even close."[20] Sawyer asked Wurzelbacher, "And the McCain camp, some people have said did they contact you and tell you that you were going to be a major part of this, and had they contacted you before that encounter with Senator Obama?" Wurzelbacher answered, "Oh no, no, no one's contacted me as far as if I was going to be on the debate or as far as my name being used. No. I have been contacted by them and asked to show up at a rally. But, other than that, no. I just happened to be here and Barack Obama happened to show up."[20]

On November 2, Wurzelbacher appeared again on Your World with Neil Cavuto, where he expressed concern that Barack Obama's tax plans would go down "a slippery slope" and eventually raise his taxes. Wurzelbacher also questioned Obama's patriotism saying "there's too many questions with Barack Obama, and his loyalty to our country."[21]

References on the campaign trail

On October 18, McCain told a campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida that he had phoned Wurzelbacher for the first time on October 17. McCain said, "He's a great guy, proud of his grandfather who served in the US Marine Corps. We're going to fight for Joe, my friends, we are going to fight for him. The question Joe asked about our economy is important, because Senator Obama's plan would raise taxes on small businesses that employ 16 million Americans. Senator Obama's plan will kill those jobs at just the time when we need to be creating more jobs. My plan will create jobs, and that's what America needs."[22]

The McCain-Palin campaign's senior strategist Steve Schmidt said that John McCain's strategy in the final weeks of the presidential campaign was based primarily around his differences with Obama on economic issues, which they would continue to highlight through the story of Joe the Plumber.[23][24]

After the final presidential debate, McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin frequently repeated the charge in campaign speeches that "Joe the Plumber" would pay higher taxes under Obama and Biden's plan, although according to tax analysts neither Wurzelbacher nor the company he works for would actually be subject to higher taxes under Obama's tax plan.[8] Obama's "spread the wealth around" quote was later used by the McCain campaign, comparing the Democrat's policies to socialism.[25] McCain said, "[Obama] wants government to take Joe's money and give it to somebody else." Obama said in a campaign rally on October 24 that McCain was "not fighting for Joe the Plumber. He's fighting for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager... He likes to talk about Joe the Plumber but he's in cahoots with Joe the CEO." Obama then promoted a plan for middle-class tax cuts and "asked for a show of hands at the rally in the Richmond Coliseum from those making less than $250,000. Nearly all of the 13,000 people raised their hands."[26]

Aides to the McCain-Palin campaign said on October 24 that they would "spend heavily" on a new TV advertisement invoking Wurzelbacher's nickname. The ad would feature "several different people looking into the camera and saying, 'I'm Joe the Plumber.' One man accuses Obama of wanting to use the man's 'sweat to pay for his trillion dollars in new spending.'"[27] McCain also ran several other commercials with this theme.

Joint appearances with John McCain

On October 30, Wurzelbacher made appearances with John McCain during campaign stops in Sandusky, Ohio, Elyria, Ohio,[28] and Mentor, Ohio.[29] In Sandusky, McCain accused the Obama campaign of attacking Wurzelbacher,[30] and in Mentor, Wurzelbacher was allowed to address the crowd, saying, "Once you find out the facts, they become quite obvious," while pointing at McCain. Earlier in the day, at a rally in Defiance, Ohio, McCain thought that Wurzelbacher was supposed to be in the crowd, and called for him to stand up. When it became clear that Joe wasn't in attendance, McCain ended the silence by telling the whole crowd instead to stand up, stating, "You're all Joe the Plumber."[31]

Political ambitions

After his meeting with Barack Obama, a campaign to draft Wurzelbacher to run for the United States House of Representatives in the 2010 election started with the website [32] The Washington Times and the Boston Herald have reported that this campaign's goal is to draft Wurzelbacher to run against Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio's 9th congressional district,[33][34] although Kaptur could choose to run for the senate seat being vacated by George Voinovich.[35] The website was created by Trevor Lair (presently the chairman of the Massachusetts College Republicans),[36] Derek Khanna,[37] and the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans.[38] The website encourages visitors to sign an online petition that supports Wurzelbacher’s run for office.[36][39] Laura Ingraham asked Wurzelbacher, on October 24, 2008, if he would run against Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Wurzelbacher responded that he had considered the run and would be "up for it."[40]

Personal controversy

Regarding his statement to Barack Obama about intending to buy the plumbing firm that employed him, Wurzelbacher later said that the idea of buying the company was discussed during his job interview six years prior.[6] According to MSNBC and Fox News, court records show that Wurzelbacher made $40,000 in 2006.[16] Dun & Bradstreet's report estimated that A. W. Newell Corporation, the full corporate name, had $510,000 in annual sales and eight employees.[41] As part of the background on McCain's use of "Joe the Plumber," several media outlets researched his professional plumbing credentials. One Toledo Blade article stated, "Mr. Wurzelbacher said he works under Al Newell’s license, but according to Ohio building regulations, he must maintain his own license to do plumbing work. He is also not registered to operate as a plumber in Ohio, which means he’s not a plumber." "Mr. Joseph [business manager of the local union] said Mr. Wurzelbacher could only legally work in the townships, but not in any municipality in Lucas County or elsewhere in the country."[42] Wurzelbacher has since stated that he is no longer employed at Newell.[1]

ABC News reported on October 16, 2008, that there was a judgment lien against Wurzelbacher for non-payment of $1,182 in owed Ohio state income taxes dating to January 2007, but "no action has been taken against him outside of filing the lien." Barb Losie, deputy clerk of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, said that "there is a 99 percent chance [Wurzelbacher] doesn't know about the lien, unless he did a credit report or was ready to pay his taxes."[43] While on Hannity & Colmes, Wurzelbacher stated that he was unaware of the tax lien prior to it being reported in the press, and felt he was being attacked because of his question to Obama.[44]

Since the 2008 election

Wurzelbacher has signed with a publicity management agent regarding media relationships, including "a possible record deal with a major label, personal appearances and corporate sponsorships."[45]

In November 2008, Wurzelbacher was hired for a series of commercials reminding people to convert analog television to digital.[46] Wurzelbacher was hired to help consumers understand the DTV transition in the United States through a series of videos designed to explain the changeover.[47]

In November 2008, Wurzelbacher began promoting his book Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream.[48][49] Co-written with novelist Thomas Tabback and published by PearlGate Publishing[50] of Austin, Texas,[51] the book addresses Wurzelbacher’s ideas concerning American values.[52] In particular, Wurzelbacher criticizes John McCain and states that he did not want him as the Republican presidential nominee.[53] According to the Toledo Blade, Wurzelbacher revealed negative opinions about McCain as a candidate, saying that the election was "the lesser of two evils."[54] On December 10, 2008, it was reported that Wurzelbacher also criticized John McCain for voting for the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, also known as the bank bailout.[55] When it comes to taxation, he does not consider himself to be a supporter of either party.[56]

In January 2009, Wurzelbacher began work as a motivational speaker and commentator. His first assignment[57] was to comment from Israel on the fighting between the Israeli Defence Forces and Hamas, focusing on the Israeli experience of the conflict.[58] On February 26, Wurzelbacher spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he led a panel titled "conservatism 2.0".[59] On February 27, he spoke at the Washington, D.C. American Tea Party protest in Lafayette Park.[60] In March, Wurzelbacher attended two conferences in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, first speaking to the "Conservative Young Professionals of Milwaukee,"[61] and then at the “Defending the American Dream Summit." [62] On April 15, he spoke at the Michigan Tax Day Tea Party in Lansing.[63] On May 6, 2009, Wurzelbacher appeared at a campaign event on behalf of New Jersey Gubernatorial Candidate Steve Lonegan.[64] In May 2009, Time magazine reported that Wurzelbacher was quitting the Republican Party.[65] On September 19 he spoke at a Tea Party protest at Veteran's Park in Milwaukee.[66]

On February 13, 2010 Wurzelbacher attended a political event for Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate, Sam Rohrer. Speaking to a reporter afterwards, Wurzelbacher said that "McCain was trying to use [him]", and accused McCain of having "really screwed [Wurzelbacher's] life up".[67] [68]

Ohio database search controversy

Prior to the 2008 election, an employee of Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services, at the behest of its director, Helen Jones-Kelley, used state computers to search for information on Joe Wurzelbacher.[69] On November 20, 2008, state and local officials completed an investigation into Jones-Kelley's order, concluding that the searches were improper.[70][71] On December 17, 2008, Jones-Kelley resigned.[72] In response to the event, Republican Ohio state representative Shannon Jones sponsored House Bill 648, which mandates civil and criminal penalties for improper access of personal information on state databases.[73] On January 6, 2009, Governor Ted Strickland signed the legislation,[74] which became effective after 90 days.[75]

On March 5, 2009, on behalf of Joe Wurzelbacher, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Columbus[76] charging that Jones-Kelley and fellow ODJFS employees Fred Williams and Doug Thompson improperly searched "confidential state databases" in an attempt to retaliate against Wurzelbacher's criticism of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.[76] The lawsuit claims that "officials of the State of Ohio violated Mr. Wurzelbacher's constitutional rights,"[77] and that "Wurzelbacher suffered emotional distress, harassment, and embarrassment as a result of the search."[78] Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, stated that "no American should be investigated for simply asking a question of a public official."[79] The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages.[78]

On October 14, 2009, the Columbus Dispatch reported that, "A former contractor for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police has been charged with rummaging through state computers to retrieve confidential information about 'Joe the Plumber.'" The State Highway Patrol has stated that, "this individual has also used a law-enforcement computer network on Oct. 16, 2008 to access personal information about Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher."[80]


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