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Published: Wednesday, 10/21/2009

No one asked plumber to be the symbol of average Joes

By the time Samuel Wurzelbacher was known everywhere as "Joe the Plumber" - which is to say, by the end of the last presidential debate Wednesday, during which he was mentioned 21 times - I swore the Fifteen-Minute Fame Clock was ticking.

But here we are this week with the newly iconic Everyman still very much discussed. Gee, time sure passes slowly when you're an archetype.

Yesterday in a stump speech, John McCain called the Holland man the third candidate in the race. Also yesterday, Joe was still a top trending topic on Twitter, even as the McCain campaign put out a press release calling for more Joes:

"We want you to tell us how you are 'Joe the Plumber' and why you're supporting John McCain and Sarah Palin in 30 seconds. You could even see your video as an official McCain TV ad."

Republican strategist Ed Rollins called Barack Obama "the obvious favorite," but said "a major assist from his plumber friend" could boost Mr. McCain if it leads voters to reconsider. And Jimmy Orr - a 20-year veteran of GOP politics - asked in his nonpartisan blog for the Christian Science Monitor: "Colin Powell versus Joe the Plumber: Who's More Powerful?"

A Suffolk University poll released yesterday, meanwhile, suggests GOP reliance on JTP isn't working. Mr. Obama was up 9 points over Mr. McCain (51 percent to 42 percent) here in Ohio, where 68 percent of those polled recognized "Joe the Plumber" but only 6 percent said he made them more likely to vote for a Republican White House.

As for JTP himself, well, he spent the weekend doing TV appearances in New York City, including interviews on Fox News.

"The media's worried about whether I've paid my taxes, they're worried about any number of silly things that have nothing to do with America," noted JTP, who also said that "when you can't ask a question of your leaders anymore, that gets scary."

Joe blames neither candidate for the media intrusion. When asked by Fox host (and one-time candidate) Mike Huckabee about "the one thing you wish America knew" about him, he cited his son's importance and allowed as how "I got no desire to be in the limelight," how he'd "just like to be left alone."

That he traveled to NYC to state this on national television is interesting, to say the least - but more to the point is that it really is John McCain who put Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher on a silver platter and served him to Americans.

No presidential campaign can point to an "average" American - singling him out by name, hometown, and occupation - and then sit back blinking in wide-eyed, faux-surprise wonder when the media scrambles for details about the individual freshly offered up as a national symbol.

Given the outcome, it looks as if before the debate the McCain campaign vetted JTP ("Check out this YouTube video!") with not much less care than it vetted the ticket's running mate. Of course, Sarah Palin knew exactly what she was getting into, and certainly had a choice in the matter.

It doesn't seem Mr. Wurzelbacher was extended the same consideration.

Roberta de Boer's column appears here Tuesday and Thursday, and in Behind the News on Sunday.

Contact her at:

roberta@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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