It was reported on Sunday that Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known as “Joe the Plumber,” the symbol of the American middle class, had passed away at his home in Campbellsport, Wis., about 60 miles north of Milwaukee.
Wurzelbacher had injected himself into the 2008 presidential campaign in an impromptu national televised face-off with Barack Obama over taxing small businesses. He was 49. Katie Wurzelbacher, his wife, stated that he passed away due to complications from pancreatic cancer.
Breaking News: Samuel Wurzelbacher, who became known as “Joe the Plumber” and a symbol of Middle America for Republicans in 2008, has died at 49. The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, his wife, Katie Wurzelbacher, said. https://t.co/pqgLYB5q46
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 28, 2023
On Sunday, October 12, 2008, Mr. Wurzelbacher interrupted a game of football catch with his son in the front yard to approach then-Senator Obama (then from Illinois) on Shrewsbury Street in a working-class neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio, and ask him about his proposed tax increase for some small businesses.
During a pleasant but ultimately fruitless five-minute conversation in front of news cameras, Mr. Wurzelbacher expressed concern about being hit with a larger tax bite just as he was getting close to being able to buy a plumbing business that would bring in $250,000 annually.
Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent, made reference to “Joe the Plumber,” as he has become known, around two dozen times during the last presidential debate three days later.
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In the final weeks of the campaign, Mr. Wurzelbacher became something of a folk hero, particularly among McCain supporters and conservative commentators who agreed with his claims that Mr. Obama’s wealth-sharing economic policies were incompatible with the American dream. Mr. McCain’s running partner, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, joined Mr. Wurzelbacher onstage at rallies.
On Election Day, however, the people heard that John Doe was not a licensed plumber (he could only work in Toledo for someone with a master’s license or in outlying districts) and owed $1,200 in unpaid taxes, and their impression of him as a beefy, bald, iron-jawed John Doe quickly faded.
He considered voting for Mr. McCain at one point, but ultimately dismissed him as “the lesser of two evils” on the ballot, and he has never disclosed his final choice from that November’s election. His wife told him on Monday, “Let’s still keep that private.”
Mr. Wurzelbacher received the Republican nomination in 2012 to run against Democratic incumbent Representative Marcy Kaptur in Ohio’s 9th Congressional District. However, he was soundly defeated in the general election, receiving only 23% of the vote to Representative Kaptur’s 73%.
During that campaign, he released a video in which he defended the Second Amendment and blamed gun control for the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against Armenians in the early 20th century and for Nazi Germany’s Holocaust. He claimed that victims in both cases were rendered helpless because they lacked the means to defend themselves.
To the parents of those killed in the 2014 mass shooting at Isla Vista, California, near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, he said, “As harsh as this sounds — your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”
It was on December 3rd, 1973 when Frank and Kay (Bloomfield) Wurzelbacher welcomed their son, Samuel Joseph. He was born to a waitress and a crippled war veteran. After finishing high school, he joined the Air Force and received plumbing training. After leaving the military in 1996, he worked as an assistant plumber and for a phone business.
He wrote a book with Thomas Tabback titled “Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream” in 2009 and used his newfound fame to promote digital television in television commercials after the 2008 election. He also covered the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza for the conservative website PJ Media that same year.
He began working at a Jeep assembly plant in 2014. His children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce, are Samuel Jr. and three daughters named Samantha Jo, Henry, and Sarah Jo; his second wife was previously known as Katie Schanen.
Mr. Wurzelbacher was unsatisfied with Mr. Obama’s response to his question about how his tax proposal would affect a small plumbing firm, despite the fact that they closed their interaction with a handshake.
For small businesses, “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,” as Mr. Obama put it. He also noted that if his company’s annual income was less than $250,000, there would be no increase in tax liability.
Mr. Obama continued, “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.” In my view, if the economy benefits those at the bottom, it benefits all of us.
“If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off,” he continued. “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. Wurzelbacher remained unmoved. “It’s my discretion who I want to give my money to,” he would later say repeatedly. “It’s not for the government to decide that I make a little too much, and so I need to share it with other people. That’s not the American dream.”
On Monday, Ms. Wurzelbacher reiterated her position that her husband’s meeting with President Obama in 2008 was genuine and unstaged, and that a neighbor down the block had actually planned Mr. Obama’s appearance in the area.
“It was completely coincidental,” she said. “It always amazed him that one question thrust him into the national spotlight.”
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