"The real winner [of last week's debate] is one of Toledo's own, Joe the Plumber," Mr. McCain told a crowd estimated by the local Republican Party at about 7,000 at SeaGate Centre in Toledo.
"The reason why Joe won [the debate] is because he's the only person to get a real answer out of Senator Obama about his plans for our country. Congratulations to Joe. That is an incredibly impressive achievement," Mr. McCain said.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. McCain spoke to about 5,000 people at Otterbein College in Westerville, just outside Columbus, where he hailed Mr. Wurzelbacher in almost the same words he used later in Toledo.
Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, 34, did not appear at either rally. He was invited, but said he had prior engagements. Mr. McCain and Mr. Wurzelbacher have spoken by phone.
Mr. Wurzelbacher, who works for a two-man plumbing company, became an inadvertent national celebrity last week when he challenged Mr. Obama on his tax proposals when the Democratic nominee was in the Toledo area preparing for last Wednesday's presidential debate. Mr. Wurzelbacher argued that Mr. Obama's plans to raise taxes for those making more than $250,000 a year could hurt him if he decided to purchase his own plumbing business.
"It's not that I want to punish your success,'' Mr. Obama told him. "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."
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Mr. McCain said Mr. Wurzelbacher didn't ask Mr. Obama to show up at his home.
"He certainly didn't ask to be famous,'' he said. "Look at the attacks on him. The attacks on him are not just attacks on him but on small businesses all over this country. We learned more about Senator Obama's plans from Joe's question than we've learned in months from speeches from Senator Obama. We learned that his economic goal is to spread the wealth around."
That drew loud boos.
"He believes in redistributing the wealth, not in policies that create jobs and opportunities for all Americans,'' Mr. McCain said.
"Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry you're being put through this. No American should be attacked for asking questions of a presidential candidate, no one," Mr. McCain said.
Although he didn't ask to be famous, Mr. Wurzelbacher isn't running away from it. He appeared on three segments of Fox programs in New York over the weekend.
Yesterday's visit to Ohio marked Mr. McCain's first since Oct. 8 as the Arizona senator works to hold onto battleground states such as Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado that President Bush carried in 2004.
Mr. McCain likely needs to win all three to surpass 270 electoral votes on Nov. 4. He had been in the Toledo area three times earlier this year, but this was his first speech to a large rally.
"Let's have some straight talk,'' he said, repeating his stump speech. "We have 18 days to go. We're six points down. The national media has written us off. Senator Obama is measuring the drapes and planning with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, and concede defeat in Iraq.
"One thing they forgot - they forgot to let you decide,'' he said. "I like being the underdog, my friends. We've got 'em right where we want 'em."
Speaking in Fayetteville, N.C., yesterday Mr. Obama jibed back at Mr. McCain.
"If John McCain wants to talk about redistributing wealth to those who don't need it and don't deserve it, let's talk about the $700,000 tax cut he wants to give Fortune 500 CEOs, who've been making out like bandits - some of them literally," he said.
Mr. Obama also vowed again that, "if you make less than $250,000 a year, which includes 98 percent of small business owners, you won't see your taxes increase one single dime."
Mr. McCain claimed that 40 percent of Americans don't pay taxes, and that their tax cuts will come in the form of checks from the government, paid for by "a lot of folks just like you and Joe."
The Obama campaign noted that Mr. McCain also proposes tax credits, as part of his health care plan, and calls them "reform."
Mr. McCain was introduced by Michael Crites, the Republican candidate for Ohio attorney general; U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), and Norm Johnston, chairman of a consortium of companies called Ohio Advanced Energy.
His Toledo-area company is Solar Fields LLC.
Blade Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.
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