Ohio plumber becomes focus of debate
By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer
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 during a campaign appearance in Toledo, he told Obama that his tax plan would keep him from buying the business that currently employs him.
Sensing an opportunity during 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 television 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 (pronounced whur-zell-BAHK-er) think about becoming 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.
Wurzelbacher came up again when the debate turned to a discussion of health care policies. McCain charged that Obama's plan would fine the company Wurzelbacher wanted to buy; Obama said small businesses were exempt.
"Hey Joe, you're rich. Congratulations," McCain said mockingly.
Wurzelbacher said Obama's reaction 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.
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