Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who briefly became “Joe the Plumber,” the metaphorical everyman of the American middle class, by wading into the 2008 presidential campaign in an impromptu nationally televised confrontation with Barack Obama over taxing small businesses, died Sunday at 5 p.m. his home in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, about 60 miles north of Milwaukee. He was 49.
The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer, said his wife Katie Wurzelbacher.
Mr. Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois, was campaigning on Shrewsbury Street in a working-class neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio, on Sunday, October 12, 2008, when Mr. Wurzelbacher interrupted a soccer game with his son as he strolled through his front yard and asked the Democratic candidate about his proposed tax increase on some small businesses.
During a cordial but largely inconclusive five-minute conversation in front of news outlet cameras, Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was worried about facing a larger tax burden just as he was nearing the point where he could finally afford to buy a plumbing business , which He said would generate an income of $250,000 per year.
Three days later, “Joe the Plumber,” as popularized by Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, was called about two dozen times during the final debate of the presidential campaign.
Mr. Wurzelbacher became something of a folk hero in the final weeks of the campaign, particularly among McCain supporters and conservative commentators who accepted his comments that Obama’s wealth-sharing prescriptions for the economy resembled socialism or even communism and contradicted the American dream . McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, also stepped in, appearing on stage with Mr. Wurzelbacher at rallies.
But on Election Day, his image in the spotlight as a stocky, bald, iron-jawed John Doe faded when the public learned that he was not a licensed plumber (he could only work in Toledo for someone with a master’s license or in remote areas). ) and owed $1,200 in back taxes.
He flirted with supporting Mr. McCain, but later described him on the ballot as “the lesser of two evils” and never revealed who he voted for in November.
“Let’s keep this a secret anyway,” his wife said by phone Monday.
In 2012, Mr. Wurzelbacher won the Republican nomination to challenge Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the Democratic incumbent in Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, but was suppressed in the general election, receiving only 23 percent of the vote while she polled 73 percent.
During this campaign, he released a video in which he defended the Second Amendment and blamed gun control for the Ottoman Empire’s contribution to the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century and Nazi Germany for carrying out the Holocaust it’s about the ability to defend yourself.
Again defending the right to bear arms, he wrote to the parents of the victims of a 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista, California, near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara: “As harsh as this sounds – you. “ “Dead children do not take precedence over my constitutional rights.”
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher was born on December 3, 1973 to Frank and Kay (Bloomfield) Wurzelbacher. His mother was a waitress and his father was a disabled veteran.
After high school, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he trained as a plumber. He was laid off in 1996 and worked as a plumber’s assistant and for a telecommunications company.
He capitalized on his fame after the 2008 election, appearing in digital television commercials. published a book entitled Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream (2009, with Thomas Tabback); and covered the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza in 2009 for PJ Media, a conservative website. In 2014, he began working at a Jeep factory.
In addition to his wife, who was named Katie Schanen when they married, he is survived by a son, Samuel Jr., from his first marriage, which ended in divorce; and three children from his second marriage, Samantha Jo, Henry and Sarah Jo.
Although Mr. Wurzelbacher ended his meeting with Mr. Obama by shaking his hand, he appeared unhappy with the candidate’s response to the impact of his tax proposal on a small plumbing company.
“If you’re a small business – which you would qualify for to begin with – you would get a 50 percent tax credit, so you would get a tax break on your health care costs,” Obama said. And if his company’s sales were under $250,000, taxes wouldn’t go up, he added.
“It’s not that I want to punish your success; “I just want to make sure that everyone who stands behind you has a chance to succeed,” Mr. Obama added. “My attitude is: If the economy is fundamentally good for people, it will be good for everyone.
“If you have a plumbing company, you’re better off,” he continued. “When you have a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you – and everyone is so pressured at the moment that business is bad for everyone – and I think if you spread the assets around, that’s for Everything is good.”
Mr. Wurzelbacher was unpersuaded.
“It’s up to me who I want to give my money to,” he said again and again later. “It is not for the government to decide that I earn something too much and therefore I have to share it with other people. This is not the American dream.”
Ms. Wurzelbacher insisted Monday that her husband’s 2008 encounter with Mr. Obama was completely spontaneous and not staged by Republican activists or anyone else, and that Mr. Obama’s appearance in the neighborhood was actually arranged by a neighbor down the block had been.
“It was completely coincidental,” she said. “It never ceased to amaze him that a single question thrust him into the national spotlight.”