Joe the Plumber dominated the presidential campaign Thursday, with Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain saying the everyman from Toledo, Ohio, exposes Democratic tax-and-spend plans and Democrats trying to make the plumber's story crack under counterattacks.
Joe Wurzelbacher, who unwittingly became the star of Wednesday's final presidential debate, found himself Thursday fielding television interviews and parrying questions from reporters trying to poke holes in his story that he wants to buy a plumbing business and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama's tax increases on high-income earners could punish him for doing well.
Mr. McCain told a rally in Downington, Pa., on Thursday that Joe the Plumber's story is symbolic of what Mr. Obama wants to do.
"He wants government to take Joe's money and give it to somebody else. His hard-earned dollars," Mr. McCain said. "America didn't become the greatest nation on earth by spreading the wealth. We became the greatest nation on earth by creating new wealth."
Democrats said their priority is other average joes, and deployed their own Joe to make the case.
"We're worried about Joe the guy who owns the gas station, the barber, the grocer," Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. told ABC. "Joe the plumber, who's making over $250,000, is not going to get any more additional tax cuts with us."
Both sides claimed victory from Wednesday's debate, but what's indisputable is that with less than three weeks before Election Day Mr. Obama holds a significant lead over Mr. McCain both nationally and in key states.
Still, Mr. Obama warned supporters at a fundraiser in Manhattan not to become complacent.
"For those of you who are feeling giddy or cocky or think this is all set, I just have two words for you: New Hampshire," Mr. Obama said, referring to his loss to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary in January. "I've been in these positions before when we were favored and the press starts getting carried away and we end up getting spanked."
Both campaigns began running new ads: Republicans' commercial shows an Oval Office and says Mr. Obama isn't ready to sit in the chair during a crisis. Mr. Obama's ad argues Mr. McCain would continue Bush administration policies, despite Mr. McCain's declaration of independence in Wednesday's debate from President Bush.
Mr. McCain defended his supporters and told his Pennsylvania audience he was "proud" of them.
Minutes later, as he was talking about the economy, a woman in the audience shouted "No-bama," prompting Mr. McCain to hold up his hands as if to plead for patience, and say: "Look, I need to have a conversation with you for a few minutes here."
Later, the Republican found himself stuck in airport delays in Philadelphia and had to order up a helicopter to take him into Manhattan in order not to miss a taping with CBS's David Letterman.
He used Mr. Letterman's show to apologize to Joe the Plumber for the attention: "Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry."
But it was too late - Mr. Wurzelbacher was all the political establishment was talking about.
Pundits debated whether he would actually be covered under Mr. Obama's proposed tax increases, which would roll back the Bush income tax cuts for those making at least $250,000. And Mr. Wurzelbacher acknowledged to reporters he doesn't actually have plans to buy Newell Plumbing and Heating, the business he works for, but has talked with the owner about it.
The Associated Press reported he doesn't have a plumber's license, and owes more than $1,000 in back-taxes. They also reported he voted in the Republican primary and indicated he backed Mr. McCain but wouldn't say who he is voting for in the general election. Mr. Wurzelbacher said he's been overwhelmed.
"I'm kind of like Britney Spears having a headache. Everybody wants to know about it," he said.
• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article.
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