Who is Joe the Plumber?
He is Joe Wurzelbacher, an Ohio man looking to buy a plumbing business who came to symbolize the notion of "spreading the wealth" in Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
Earlier this week, when Wurzelbacher got a chance to speak with Obama when he visited Toledo, he told Obama that his tax plan would keep him from buying the business that currently employs him.
Sensing an opening in the debate, McCain cited that exchange when the candidates were asked to explain why their economic plans are better than their opponent's. McCain said Obama's plan would stop entrepreneurs from investing in new small businesses and keep existing ones from growing.
"Joe wants to buy the business that he has been in for all of these years, worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes," McCain challenged Obama.
"You were going to put him in a higher tax bracket which was going to increase his taxes, which was going to cause him not to be able to employ people, which Joe was trying to realize the American dream," McCain said.
McCain then looked directly into the TV camera and said: "Joe, I want to tell you, I'll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and I'll keep your taxes low and I'll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees. And I will not stand for a tax increase on small business income."
Obama denied that was true.
"Not only do 98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000, but I also want to give them additional tax breaks, because they are the drivers of the economy," Obama said. "They produce the most jobs."
So what did Wurzelbacher think about being at the center of the debate?
"It's pretty surreal, man, my name being mentioned in a presidential campaign," he said minutes after hearing McCain utter his name.
In Toledo on Sunday, Wurzelbacher told Obama that he was preparing the company, which earns more than $250,000 a year, and said: "Your new tax plan is going ot tax me more, isn't it?"
Obama said that under his proposal taxes on any revenue from $250,000 on down would stay the same, but that amounts above that level would be subject to a 39 percent tax, instead of the current 36 percent rate.
"And the reason why we're doing that is because 95 percent of small businesses make less than 250 (thousand). So what I want to do is give them a tax cut. I want to give all these folks who are bus drivers, teachers, auto workers who make less, I want to give them a tax cut," he said.
Wurzelbacher protested, saying he's been a hardworking plumber for 15 years and why should he be taxed more.
"It's not that I want to punish your success," Obama said. "I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you that they've got a chance at success, too."
At a later point in the discussion, Obama said: "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody. But listen, I respect what you do and I respect your question, and even if I don't get your vote, I'm still gonna be working hard on your behalf because small businesses are what creates jobs in this country and I want to encourage it."
Wurzelbacher's name came up again when the debate turned to a discussion of health care policies.
He said Obama's reaction on the tax question left him feeling uneasy.
"I didn't think much of it the first time I heard it," Wurzelbacher said, adding that he still thinks Obama's plan would keep him from buying the business.
About McCain: "He's got it right as far as I go."
Even so, Wurzelbacher declined to say which candidate would get his vote on Nov. 4.
"That's for me and a button to know," he said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)