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Samuel Wurzelbacher
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (cropped).jpg
Wurzelbacher in 2008
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher

(1973-12-03)December 3, 1973
Toledo, Ohio, U.S.
Died August 27, 2023(2023-08-27) (aged 49)
Other names "Joe the Plumber"
Citizenship United States
Occupation Commentator/correspondent
Former plumber's assistant
Political party Republican (2012–2023)

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher ( December 3, 1973 – August 27, 2023), commonly known as "Joe the Plumber", was an American conservative activist and commentator. He gained national attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign season when, during a videotaped campaign stop in Ohio by Democratic nominee Barack Obama, Wurzelbacher raised concerns that Obama's tax policy would increase taxes on small business owners. Wurzelbacher was a member of the Republican Party.

Since he expressed to Senator Obama that he was interested in purchasing a small plumbing business, Wurzelbacher was given the moniker "Joe the Plumber" by the McCain–Palin campaign. The campaign brought him in to make several appearances in campaign events in Ohio and McCain often referenced "Joe the Plumber" in campaign speeches and in the final presidential debate, as a metaphor for middle-class Americans.

Wurzelbacher became a prominent conservative activist, commentator, author, and motivational speaker. In 2012, he ran on the Republican ticket to represent Ohio's 9th congressional district in the House of Representatives, losing to Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur.

Early life, education, and business career

Wurzelbacher was born in Toledo, Ohio, to Kay and Frank Wurzelbacher. The family moved to Florida when he was young, then returned to Toledo when he was in the middle of high school. After high school, Wurzelbacher enlisted in the United States Air Force, and chose plumbing (Air Force Specialty Code 3E451, or Utility Systems Specialist) as his area of training. He was stationed in Alaska and North Dakota. Wurzelbacher left the Air Force in 1996 and worked as a plumber's assistant, but then switched careers and started working for the telecommunications company Global Crossing. He also married, had a son, and then divorced during this time.

2008 presidential election

Encounter with Barack Obama

On October 12, 2008, during a campaign break before the final presidential debate at Hofstra University, Obama visited a working class neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. Wurzelbacher watched as the candidate engaged numerous residents in conversation. He made his way through the crowd to ask Obama about his tax plan. Wurzelbacher suggested that Obama's tax plan would be at odds with "the American dream". Wurzelbacher said, "I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year. Your new tax plan's going to tax me more, isn't it?"

Obama responded with an explanation of how his tax plan would affect a small business in this bracket. Obama said, "If you're a small business, which you would qualify, first of all, you would get a 50 percent tax credit so you'd get a cut in taxes for your health care costs. So you would actually get a tax cut on that part. If your revenue is above 250, then from 250 down, your taxes are going to stay the same. It is true that, say for 250 up — from 250 to 300 or so, so for that additional amount, you'd go from 36 to 39 percent, which is what it was under Bill Clinton."

Obama also said, "It's not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance at success, too... My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody. If you've got a plumbing business, you're gonna be better off [...] if you've got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody's so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

Presidential debate

Wurzelbacher & McCain joint apperance at Elyria
Wurzelbacher and John McCain in a joint appearance at Elyria, Ohio

During the third and final Presidential debate on October 15, 2008, at Hofstra University, many references were made to "Joe the Plumber". In the debate, McCain repeatedly brought up "Joe the Plumber" and Obama and McCain then made statements aimed directly at Wurzelbacher. As a result, subsequent media attention was directed at Wurzelbacher.

After the debate, Wurzelbacher did not declare his vote for either candidate. He expressed concern that Obama's plans were "one step closer to socialism". Obama's running mate Joe Biden argued that 98% of small businesses take in less than $250,000 a year in income and thus wouldn't be subject to higher taxes under Obama's plan. McCain stated that Wurzelbacher would see higher taxes under Obama's plan.

Post-2008 career and activism

Joe the Plumber by Gage Skidmore
Joe Wurzelbacher at the 2012 CPAC in Washington, D.C.

In 2008, Wurzelbacher signed with a publicity management agent regarding media relationships, including "a possible record deal with a major label, personal appearances, and corporate sponsorships."

In November 2008, Wurzelbacher was hired for a series of commercials reminding people to convert analog television to digital. Wurzelbacher was hired to help consumers understand the DTV transition in the United States through a series of videos designed to explain the changeover.

In November 2008, Wurzelbacher began promoting his book Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream. Co-written with novelist Thomas Tabback and published by PearlGate Publishing of Austin, Texas, the book addresses Wurzelbacher's ideas concerning American values. In particular, Wurzelbacher criticizes John McCain and states that he did not want him as the Republican presidential nominee. Wurzelbacher criticized McCain as a candidate, saying that the election was "the lesser of two evils". On December 10, 2008, it was reported that Wurzelbacher also criticized McCain for voting for the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, also known as the bank bailout. On the issue of taxation, he did not consider himself to be a supporter of either party.

In January 2009, Wurzelbacher became a war correspondent for PJ Media. His first assignment involved visiting Israel for ten days during the Gaza War, with his reporting focusing on the Israeli experience of the conflict.

In May 2009, Time magazine reported that Wurzelbacher was quitting the Republican Party.

Wurzelbacher voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

2012 congressional election

Draft movement

After his meeting with Barack Obama, a campaign to draft Wurzelbacher to run for the United States House of Representatives in the 2010 election started with the website The Washington Times and the Boston Herald reported that the campaign's goal was to draft Wurzelbacher to run against Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio's 9th congressional district, although the possibility also existed for Kaptur to choose to run for the Senate seat being vacated by George Voinovich. The website was created by Trevor Lair (then-chairman of the Massachusetts College Republicans), Derek Khanna, and the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans. It encouraged visitors to sign an online petition that supported Wurzelbacher's run for office. Laura Ingraham asked Wurzelbacher, on October 24, 2008, if he would run against Kaptur. Wurzelbacher responded that he had considered the run and would be "up for it".


On October 7, 2011, Wurzelbacher filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to challenge Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur in the 2012 race for Ohio's 9th congressional seat.

In the March 6, 2012 primary, Wurzelbacher gained the nomination as the Republican candidate in the race, defeating challenger Steven Kraus. He ran in the November 2012 general election against Kaptur, who had won the Democratic primary against Dennis Kucinich after the two incumbents' respective Congressional districts were collapsed into one as a result of post-2010 Census redistricting by the state's Republican-controlled legislature. He lost the election, with Kaptur, who had been the heavy favorite and received over 70% of the vote.


In 2022, Wurzelbacher was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died on August 27, 2023, aged 49. He was survived by his wife Katie and four children.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Joe el fontanero para niños

  • Tito the Builder
  • Ken Bone
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