The Washington Times - October 30, 2008, 05:43PM

Joe the Plumber finally said the words.

After a morning mix-up in which Sen. John McCain tried to introduce the world’s most famous plumber, only to find out he wasn’t in the crowd, and an afternoon event in which JTP showed up but didn’t say a word about the Republican nominee, Joe Wurzelbacher finally made a formal endorsement.

“If you want to vote for a real American — John McCain,” he said, drawing a hearty handshake and hug from the nominee.

The burly but softspoken plumber with the shaved head had been coy ever since he buttonholed the Democratic nominee, who had stopped in his Holland, Ohio, neighborhood.

Mr. Wurzelbacher asked Sen. Barack Obama about his tax policy, and in a clip viewed millions of times on YouTube, the Democrat said he plans to increase taxes because he wants to “spread the wealth around.”

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Since then, his private records have been searched and Democratic operatives have sought to dismantle his reputation. But Mr. Wurzelbacher, when he answered questions last week on The Washington Times website, refused to explicitly endorse the Republican.

The day got off to an iffy start. At his first stop of the day, in Defiance, Ohio, McCain went to introduce the man around whom he has built his campaign.

“Joe’s with us today. Joe, where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today?”

The problem? Joe wasn’t here.

McCain aides scrambled; one ran past reporters in one direction, then back in the other, talking frantically into her portable radio. Reporters streamed up to other aides asking if the world’s most famous plumber was here.

“Joe, I thought you were here today,” McCain said as the crowd murmured. After half a minute of silence, as everyone in the crowd scanned for Joe, McCain tried to make the best of it. “All right, well, you’re all Joe the Plumber so all of you stand up and say — I thank you,” he said as the crowd applauded.

Afterward, one McCain aide sought to downplay the misstep. “It was a metaphor; they’re all Joe the Plumber.”

But reporters weren’t buying it. “This is going to make every network news channel tonight,” one said a few minutes after the goof. Another joked: “Are you kidding? It’s already got 100,000 hits on YouTube.”