“Joe the Plumber,” who rose to fame during 2008 presidential election, dead at 49

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who became known as “Joe the Plumber” during the 2008 US presidential election after confronting then-candidate Barack Obama about his tax plan, has died at 49.

The news was confirmed by his family, who said he died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

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“The only thing I have to say is that he was a true patriot,” his oldest son Joey Wurzelbacher told AP. “His big thing is that everyone come to God. That’s what he taught me, and that’s a message I hope is heard by a lot of people.”

Born in Toledo, Ohio on December 3, 1973, Wurzelbacher became a major name in the 2008 presidential race: on October 12, 2008, he confronted Obama while the then-candidate visited his hometown, asking if his tax plan would affect his plumbing business.

“I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year. Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?” he asked Obama.

The exchange was cordial — Obama defended his tax plans and told Wurzelbacher that he would receive tax credits as a small business, though taxes for any income above $250,000 would increase three percent — but Republicans soon jumped on the exchange as a political talking point.

Republican candidate John McCain dubbed Wurzelbacher “Joe the Plumber,” referencing him in his speeches and used Obama’s response as evidence of “socialist” policies that would hurt small businesses. “Joe the Plumber” became the McCain campaign’s symbol of working-class America.

“He’s a great guy, proud of his grandfather who served in the US Marine Corps,” McCain said on October 17, saying he had spoken to Wurzelbacher by phone. “We’re going to fight for Joe, my friends, we are going to fight for him.”

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“Joe the Plumber” was a talking point in the ensuing presidential debates, and Wurzelbacher appeared at rallies with McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin. Though Wurzelbacher never said which candidate he would be voting for, he continued to express doubts about Obama’s tax plan during press appearances.

After the election, Wurzelbacher continued to embrace the “Joe the Plumber” title and became a conservative activist, commentator and author; he published his book Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream in 2008.

BOWLING GREEN, OH – OCTOBER 29: (TOLEDO BLADE OUT) Joe Wurzelbacher looks on as Republican vice-presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks October 29, 2008 at Bowling Green University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Joe Wurzelbacher, also known as “Joe the plumber” of Holland, Ohio, campaigned with Palin for the first time at the event. (Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)

Wurzelbacher’s fame also came with controversies: during the election it was revealed that he was not actually a licensed plumber and that he owed $1,182 in Ohio state income taxes. He also drew criticism for his comments on gun rights, implying that gun control led to the Holocaust and telling parents of victims in the 2014 Isla Vista killings that “dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

He ran for Congress in 2012, running as a Republican for Ohio’s 9th congressional seat against Democrat Marcy Kaptur; he lost in a landslide. His family told AP that he went back to his plumbing career after politics.

MENTOR, OH – OCTOBER 30: Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher addresses a campaign rally with Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the gymnasium at Mentor High School October 30, 2008 in Mentor, Ohio. With less than a week before the U.S. presidential election, McCain launched a two-day bus tour of the swing state of Ohio, where some polls show his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) leading by nine points. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Wurzelbacher is survived by his wife Katie and his four children, according to AP.

Rest in peace to “Joe the Plumber” — regardless of your politics, there’s no denying he resonated with a lot of people and changed how we talked about the 2008 election.

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