FINDLAY - John McCain and Sarah Palin played up the anti-tax theme that Springfield Township resident "Joe the Plumber" gave the GOP ticket in enthusiastic campaign rallies across the state yesterday.
In Findlay, and at later rallies near Akron and in Cincinnati, the pair tried to pour cold water on the Ohio hopes of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden.
Bathed in wild Republican applause at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, Mr. McCain said, "Is there any doubt we're going to win this election?"
"You've really got to hand it to old 'Joe the Plumber' up the road in Toledo," Alaska Governor Palin said to the crowd that filled the University of Findlay's Koehler Fitness and Recreation Center.
"He finally got Obama to state his intentions in plain language. Senator Obama says now he wants to spread the wealth. What that means is that government takes your money and doles it out wherever a politician would see fit," Mrs. Palin said to big cheers.
She said Mr. Obama wasn't happy about the encounter.
"It seems their staged photo op got ruined by a real person's question," she said.
Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, 34, of Springfield Township, did not surface at any of the events yesterday, although he was invited. Nor has he endorsed the McCain-Palin ticket.
Mr. Wurzelbacher, who arrived back home Tuesday after spending the weekend in New York City making the interview rounds on the Fox News Network, will leave today for Los Angeles. A relative would not say why he was heading to California, just that he had been "invited."
Speaking at a campaign rally in Richmond, Va., Mr. Obama turned the conversation back on Mr. McCain.
"I have no problem with Joe. Joe's cool," Mr. Obama said. "All I want to do is give Joe a tax cut," Mr. Obama said, adding that Mr. McCain "is not fighting for Joe the Plumber, he's fighting for Joe the hedge fund manager" and "Joe the CEO."
The now-famous exchange occurred Oct. 12 in front of Mr. Wurzelbacher's house, when he told Mr. Obama he feared tax increases would undermine his "American dream" of buying his boss' plumbing business.
"I think when you spread the wealth around it's good for everybody," Mr. Obama said. The phrase quickly spread through the right-wing blogs.
Mr. Wurzelbacher has acknowledged he has no immediate prospect of buying the company and said he is not making enough money to be affected by the tax increases advocated by Mr. Obama.
The Obama campaign has insisted it has no plans to raise taxes on small-business owners except the 2 percent - according to Mr. Obama's estimate - who earn more than $250,000 taxable income annually.
That assertion didn't deter Mr. McCain.
"If I'm elected president - when I'm elected president - I won't spend nearly a trillion dollars more of your money. Senator Obama will and he can't do that without raising your taxes or digging us further into debt."
The two candidates also jumped on Mr. Biden's remark on Monday that the United States would face an international crisis within six months to "test" Mr. Obama.
Mr. McCain called Mr. Biden's comment about a Cuban missile-style crisis "one of the most interesting things ever said in American politics," adding, "we don't need another crisis."
But while the McCain-Palin campaign tried to continue to focus voter and media attention on Mr. Obama's tax plans or statements by Mr. Biden, Democrats and media outlets were raising questions about reports that Mrs. Palin had spent more than $150,000 to buy clothes paid for by the campaign.
The McCain-Palin campaign refused yesterday to say whether Mrs. Palin's suit was part of the wardrobe paid for out of the campaign's shopping spree at swanky stores, including Neiman Marcus.
Staff Writer Steve Eder contributed to this report.
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