One of the unexpected stars of Wednesday night's U.S. presidential
debate turned out to be someone who was not even on the stage in New
York. A man called "Joe the Plumber" was mentioned a total of 23
times by the candidates, who each tried to use him to make their
arguments. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington on
who "Joe the Plumber" is and what role he might play in the remaining
19 days of the presidential race.
Sam Joe Wurzelbacher
unknowingly stepped into the election spotlight when he met Senator
Obama as the Democratic nominee campaigned Sunday in Toledo, Ohio. The
bald, brawny plumber asked Obama about his plan to increase taxes for
people who earn more than $250,000 a year.
that he wants to buy the small plumbing business where he works, and
said he was worried that would put him into the upper tax bracket of
Obama acknowledged that that might be the case
and said he did not want to punish the plumber with higher taxes, but
said "... I think that when we spread the wealth around, it is good for
everybody." The exchange was captured on video, and was aired on the
conservative Fox News cable network, who interviewed the plumber.
in Wednesday's debate, Senator John McCain brought up Wurzelbacher, and
repeatedly used him as an example to attack Obama's plan, which Senator
McCain said would tax the wealthiest Americans, calling it "class
warfare." McCain looked straight at the camera and spoke to Joe.
I want to tell you, I will not only help you buy that business that you
worked your whole life for and I will keep your taxes low and I will
provide available and affordable health care for you and your
employees," he said. "And I will not stand for a tax increase on small
Obama defended his tax plan, saying he had
explained to Joe at the rally that 98 percent of small businesses make
less than $250,000 a year.
"What I essentially said to him
was, five years ago, when you were not in a position to buy your
business, you needed a tax cut then," he said. "And what I want to do
is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the
teacher, the young entrepreneur who does not yet have money, I want to
give them a tax break now. And that requires us to make some important
Both candidates then continued to direct their answers
to "Joe the Plumber" throughout much of the debate, using him as a
symbol of an ordinary American as they outlined their health care plans
and detailed how they might effect Joe.
The 34-year-old single
father was watching the debate at home in his living room, and said he
was surprised to hear his name mentioned so many times. As the debate
continued, his phone began ringing, with journalists trying to contact
In one interview, he would not say who he is planning to vote for, but had this commentary after the debate.
think McCain did much better this time, he really got out his points,"
said Wurzelbacher. "So, I was pleased with that. I mean Obama, you
cannot take away that he is just a very, he is a damned good speaker.
But McCain came across with some solid points and I was real happy
about that. He came across with his tax cuts, which I think are
ultimately very good."
Wurzelbacher said he is skeptical of
"Obama, I mean he sits there and says he wants to help the
middle class, but you know I am middle class," he said. "You have seen
my house. You know I do not have any bells and whistles [fancy things]
in here really. And you know, my truck is a couple of years old and I
am going to have it for the, you know, next 10 years, probably. So,
you know, I do not see him helping me out."
Wurzelbacher held news conferences in front of a crowd of reporters
gathered in his suburban Toledo, Ohio driveway. He said all the media
attention made him feel like "Britney Spears with a headache." He said
the McCain campaign had asked him to attend a weekend rally, but he
already had plans to travel to New York.
On the campaign
trail, McCain's vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also talked
about "Joe and Jane the Plumber" to attack Obama's tax plan, a sign
that Joe may be invoked many times in the last days of the campaign.