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Republican Samuel Wurzelbacher's campaign for the 9th Congressional District is so low-profile that even Republicans are wondering whether he's serious about running, let alone winning.
On Wednesday, Mr. Wurzelbacher made a rare call to The Blade to explain his unusual campaign tactics.
And he said he is willing to do a debate with Democratic opponent Marcy Kaptur, to be sponsored by WTVG-TV, Channel 13, and The Blade on Oct. 25 or 26.
“Quite frankly, politics suck, I hate it with a passion. Only reason I’m involved in it is I like history and I like government,” said Mr. Wurzelbacher, 38, a resident of Springfield Township.
The candidate, who became famous as "Joe the Plumber" after he questioned Barack Obama when Mr. Obama made an unscheduled stop to campaign in his neighborhood four years ago, is facing 15-term incumbent Miss Kaptur in a newly drawn congressional district that stretches from Toledo to Cleveland.
Mr. Wurzelbacher skipped a candidate forum staged by the League of Women Voters and other groups at the University of Toledo on Tuesday night.
"It's hard for me to really define what he stands for because he hasn't appeared in public to explain any of his positions since the primary," Miss Kaptur told the audience of about 100 people.
His out-of-sight approach has upset some Republicans.
Former GOP Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber recently noted on her blog, Thurber's Thoughts, that Mr. Wurzelbacher "has a campaign committee and a Web site, but has been conspicuously absent from the news over the last month.
“This is not the way to win a campaign,” Ms. Thurber wrote.
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Steve Kraus, Mr. Wurzelbacher's defeated opponent in the March 6 primary for the Republican nomination, said Mr. Wurzelbacher was absent from the opening of a Republican "victory center" campaign office Monday night in Sandusky.
"It's kinda sad," said Mr. Kraus, who is now running for Erie County commissioner. "He's not running the race he said he was going to run. Everybody's complaining they don't have signs; they don't hear from him; they don't know what's going on."
Mr. Wurzelbacher and his campaign staff last week and early this week refused to respond to emails and phone calls from The Blade until Wednesday.
In a 20-minute telephone interview, Mr. Wurzelbacher blasted the standard campaign process in which he makes public statements from which the media quotes selectively.
"Quite frankly, it’s easier to talk to someone one-on-one instead of a group of people. You’re not going to be taken out of context, so somebody understands what you’re saying," Mr. Wurzelbacher said.
He said he still has the help of two professional political consultants, but not on a full-time basis, and he no longer uses the campaign headquarters that his staff rented in the Old West End earlier this year.
“Last night I probably spoke to 100-some-odd people personally which is a lot better than speaking to 100 people at an event where I might meet 20 or 30 of them,” he said, referring to his door-knocking activity of Tuesday night. He said he was meeting voters on the east side of Secor Road.
"It just comes down to simple mathematics. How can I meet more people, talk to more people, get them to know who I am. Is it is a winning strategy? I don’t know. I don’t if anyone else has tried it,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said.
He said the public needs to do some of their own research.
“I’ve put out over 20 videos, that’s quite a bit of work, stating where I stand and what I want to accomplish. The American people need to work and get good representation, otherwise they’re going to get the same old thing they always get,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said.
According to Steve Fought, campaign spokesman for Miss Kaptur, she and Mr. Wurzelbacher have been invited to three debates — one in front of the Cleveland City Club, one that would be arranged by the Sandusky Register newspaper, and one being jointly sponsored by WTVG and The Blade. He said the only response they know of from Mr. Wurzelbacher is to the WTVG/Blade debate.
"We want as many people as possible to see Marcy Kaptur and Joe Wurzelbacher up there talking about the issues," Mr. Fought said.
Anthony Knopps, WTVG political director, said Wednesday that he has been in contact with Mr. Wurzelbacher through Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party. "The invitation’s out there, but nothing’s final yet."
Mr. Wurzelbacher told The Blade on Wednesday that he hasn't made up his mind about the other two proposed debates.
Mr. Wurzelbacher has continued to seek campaign funds from his national sources. He put out a fresh appeal this week, attacking the news media over its coverage of the deadly raid on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and for concentrating on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's comments rather than on the threat to American security.
"This week has been a disaster for Miss Kaptur, Barack Obama, and the Democrats as the world begins to crash in around them, yet you can see how the media is completely in the tank for them," he wrote.
And he's been active on the social media site Twitter.
A Wurzelbacher Tweet on Tuesday said, "I will work to earn your trust, and I will answer your questions directly. We may not always agree, but you will never have to guess where I stand."
Some of Mr. Wurzelbacher's public pronouncements have brought down national condemnation, such as a recent statement suggesting that border guards should shoot illegal immigrants.
Miss Kaptur appeared to be referencing that when she told the audience Tuesday night, "Based on some of the inflammatory statements he has made, I do not think he has the best interests of all the American people in mind."
In a video, Mr. Wurzelbacher is seen telling an audience in Arizona on Aug. 10 that, "For years I've said, ‘Put a damn fence on that border going to Mexico and start shooting … ' That's how I feel. I'm not going to hide it just because I'm running for office. I want the borders protected, and I'm very adamant about that."
He defended himself on Wednesday.
“I’m not talking about defending illegal immigrants as her party has done time and time again. I think I’m very much on the record as wanting to protect America and America’s interests. All of your sanctuary cities are liberally controlled, Democratically controlled. Is she working on the interests of Americans or illegal immigrants?” Mr. Wurzelbacher said.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said Mr. Wurzelbacher appears to be running just for the $5,000 salary he pays himself every month out of his campaign finance account.
"Joe Wurzelbacher is not running for office. He has a job as a candidate. It's fairly lucrative work if you can get it, and that's why he filed to run against Marcy," Mr. Redfern said.
Taking a salary is rare, but legal, under Federal Elections Commission regulations.
Mr. Wurzelbacher said he will stop taking the salary when the campaign ends, and if there’s any money left in his account, he’ll donate it to a veterans’ organization.
“I’ve not made millions of dollars off Joe the Plumber. In fact I’ve made less money. I’ve lost a lot of money, and I’ve sacrificed a great many things to represent a group of people who want their voices heard,” he said. He said he has about $19,000 in his campaign account.
Mr. Stainbrook said Wednesday that Mr. Wurzelbacher was at Lucas County Republican Party headquarters in downtown Toledo Tuesday night to pick up more literature for his door-to-door lit drops. He said Mr. Wurzelbacher has knocked on doors — and not just doors of Republican voters — in Point Place, Lorain, and Cleveland.
"He's running a more grassroots, door-to-door, face-to-face campaign that I guess is more low-key," Mr. Stainbrook said. "He's continually requesting walk lists from me, and he's working in conjunction with other campaigns and dropping their literature as well. I know they're getting the literature out there to the voters."
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