Joe Wurzelbacher, who rocketed to overnight fame as Sen. John McCain's "Joe the Plumber" with idealistic hopes to buy a plumbing firm worth $250,000, came back down to earth as an unlicensed plumber who potentially could benefit from Sen. Barack Obama's proposed "middle class" tax cuts.
"I think this is a gas," said Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, 34, yesterday as national TV and print reporters flocked to his modest ranch home on Shrewsbury Street in Springfield Township.
By the end of the day Mr. Wurzelbacher's enthusiasm had waned.
"I don't have a lot of pull. It's not like I'm Matt Damon," he said. "I just hope I'm not making too much of a fool of myself."
Mr. Wurzelbacher unintentionally became a conservative star after he confronted Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama over his tax proposals Sunday.
When Mr. Obama showed up in his neighborhood, Mr. Wurzelbacher thought the questions being asked of Mr. Obama were too tame, so he decided to ask a tougher one.
"Your new tax plan is going to tax me more," he told Mr. Obama.
The two sparred about taxes for about five minutes, in the course of which Mr. Obama said, "It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody that is behind you, that they have a chance for success, too. I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
On Wednesday night, Republican nominee Mr. McCain made "Joe the Plumber" the centerpiece of his attack on Mr. Obama, and featured him in a TV ad.
Mr. Wurzelbacher does not have a plumber's license, according the Ohio Department of Commerce.
He is employed in the two-person firm Newell Plumbing & Heating Co., whose business address is on Talmadge Road in Ottawa Hills.
A.W. Newell Corp. has a state plumbing license and one with the city of Toledo.
Mr. Wurzelbacher said it's his understanding he can work under Mr. Newell's license as long as the licensed contractor works on the same site.
Thomas Joseph, business manager for Local 50 of the United Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Service Mechanics in Rossford, said Mr. Wurzelbacher didn't undergo apprenticeship training and isn't licensed to work in Toledo, Sylvania, Maumee, or Perrysburg, with or without a licensed plumber alongside.
"Anytime you touch anything listed in the plumbing code, you must be licensed," Mr. Joseph said.
"This exposes the McCain campaign for not doing their due diligence before they put him on national TV," Mr. Joseph said. "John McCain's put this guy in a very bad position."
Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was hired by Mr. Newell six years ago and that the possibility of buying the company was discussed during his job interview. He said there have been no steps in that direction.
Mr. Wurzelbacher wouldn't say who he's supporting for president. He acknowledged liking Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whom he called "sincere" and "a strong woman."
Lucas County Board of Elections records show he voted as a Republican in Ohio's March 4 primary.
Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was born at St. Charles Hospital but was raised in Florida until he was about 13. The family returned and he went to Springfield High School. He lived in Alaska from 1992 until 1995 while in the Air Force, and in Arizona from 1997 to 2000.
He said he is twice-divorced and has custody of his 13-year-old son, Joey.
Court records say that in 2006 he reported in a divorce filing that he was paid $40,000 in gross annual income.
In January, 2007, the state department of taxation placed a lien against him for $1,183 in personal property taxes, but there has been no action on that case.
"I had no idea about it," Mr. Wurzelbacher said yesterday.
The Lucas County Clerk of Courts office said the state often will not notify someone when it places a lien.
Mr. Wurzelbacher objects to Mr. Obama's plans to raise income taxes on incomes above $250,000.
"Right now we're nowhere near that," Mr. Wurzelbacher said. But it could affect him, "if my business succeeds the way that I want to."
He admitted that Mr. Obama's tax plan actually would benefit him, but said he didn't want the help. "If you believe [Senator Obama], I'd be receiving his tax cuts," he said.
Mr. Wurzelbacher said he disagrees with the idea of people being taxed at a higher rate because they earn more - a practice that has been federal law for about a century.
"They're going to take more of your money because you've been more successful," he said.
He said Mr. Obama's phrase "spread the wealth" hinted at socialism.
Mr. Obama's tax plan is to raise rates on incomes above $250,000 from 36 percent to 39 percent, and give tax breaks to 95 percent of Americans earning less than $250,000.
Yesterday in New Hampshire, Mr. Obama said Mr. McCain was misleading voters.
"He's trying to suggest that a plumber is the guy he's fighting for," Mr. Obama said. "How many plumbers you know that are making a quarter-million dollars a year?"
Mr. Wurzelbacher was invited to be Mr. McCain's guest at a rally planned for this Sunday in Toledo. He told reporters he's unsure whether he'll attend, because he's scheduled to be in New York for TV interviews.
It wasn't clear how long his role in the McCain campaign would last.
During an afternoon taping of Late Night with David Letterman, Mr. McCain said he had not yet spoken to Mr. Wurzelbacher, and apologized for the attention he had received.
"Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry," Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Wurzelbacher's family seemed stunned by the media attention.
"It's gone too far," said his brother, Robert Wurzelbacher. "All he did is ask a question."
Blade staff writers Larry P. Vellequette, Mark Reiter, and Alex M. Parker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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