Forget Joe Six-Pack. It's all about Joe the Plumber.
The most talked about man in the U.S. presidential election is now a 34-year-old Ohio resident otherwise known as Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher.
He was referenced more than 20 times in Wednesday night's presidential debate, and quickly found himself in a deluge of media attention, political parody and personal scrutiny.
“I don't have a lot of pull. It's not like I'm Matt Damon,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said Thursday as a caravan of reporters parked in front of the home he shares with his son. “I just hope I'm not making too much of a fool of myself.”
Mr. Wurzelbacher cannot have expected the attention he is now receiving when he asked a question of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama during a campaign stop in Toledo on Sunday. He wanted to know about Mr. Obama's tax plan, and why it would punish those who made more than $250,000, who had achieved “the American Dream.”
The exchange was raised by Republican candidate John McCain during the final presidential debate, leading to a near-farcical back and forth about “Joe the Plumber.”
At a Philadelphia rally Thursday, Mr. McCain brought up Mr. Wurzelbacher again, saying “Joe's the man!” as supporters chanted “Joe! Joe! Joe!”
But Joe might not feel like The Man.
Curiosity about the new political mascot led to some personal revelations about Mr. Wurzelbacher.
It was reported that he is not licensed to work as a plumber in his county and that he owes $1,182.92 in back taxes.
Both Mr. Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, criticized Mr. Wurzelbacher Thursday as a false idol of the Republican cause.
“John [McCain]continues to cling to the notion of this guy Joe the Plumber,” Mr. Biden said on NBC's Today show. “I don't have any Joe the plumbers in my neighbourhood that make $250,000 a year. The Joe the plumbers in my neighbourhood, the Joe the cops in my neighbourhood, the Joe the grocery store owners in my neighbourhood, they make, like 98 per cent of the small businesses, less than $250,000 a year.”
Others have called into question the logic of Mr. Wurzelbacher's question to Mr. Obama, and pointed out that he would actually benefit from the Democrat's plan.
In an exchange captured on camera, Mr. Wurzelbacher had told Mr. Obama he was preparing to buy a plumbing company that earns more than $250,000 a year, and said, “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?”
Mr. Obama stopped and explained his plan, acknowledging that those who earn more than $250,000 a year would see their taxes rise to 39 per cent from 36 per cent.
“You're going to 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,” Mr. Obama said.
Many Republicans, including Mr. McCain, seized upon the notion of spreading “the wealth around,” criticizing Mr. Obama as a steal-from-the-rich advocate of higher taxes.
Mr. Wurzelbacher said Mr. Obama tap-danced around the answer, “almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr.”
On Good Morning America Thursday, Mr. Wurzelbacher admitted that he does not make $250,000.
“No, not even close,” he said.
But when asked why he does not support increased taxes for the wealthy, he stood by his critique of Mr. Obama.
“Why should they be penalized for being successful?” he asked. “That's a very socialist view.”
He will likely be happy, then, that in true capitalist fashion, many people are trying to wring success from Joe's 15 minutes.
A Texas-based company called Joe the Plumber is selling out of its T-shirts, while industrious designers have taken to the Internet to sell their own wares that read: “Vote Joe the Plumber ‘08. No More Drips in the White House.”
On Thursday, the president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association (PHCC) released a statement “applauding the efforts of both presidential candidates for their focus on plumbing contractors during the presidential debate on Wednesday night.”
Whether Mr. Wurzelbacher cashes in on his new-found fame remains to be seen.
He has declined to tell reporters whom he will vote for, and has encouraged Americans to research the candidates' policies and make up their own minds.
And as for his prominence in the debate, Mr. Wurzelbacher was among many viewers who felt his name was raised a few times too many.
“That bothered me,” he said. “I wished that they had talked more about issues that are important to Americans.”