‘Joe the Plumber’ takes the plunge into politics

Wurzelbacher faces well-funded incumbent with emphasis on jobs

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“That’s very much the difference between me and my opponent. If I was her, I’d be embarrassed to run on [her] record. You drive around her district and see homes for sale, ones that have been foreclosed on, businesses are shut down, new strip malls are built but many are empty and vacant. Sure, she brings back pork for certain individuals and groups, but there are 600,000 people in this district, and she is helping the few, not the many,” he said.

But that district is still solidly Democratic, say political observers, and overcoming Ms. Kaptur’s advantages in organization, support and campaign money would be a huge upset.

“I would say she will edge toward 70 percent,” said Baldwin-Wallace College political scientist Tom Sutton, predicting a blowout win for the incumbent this fall. “I think she’s taking this seriously, and I think she’s going to run a hard campaign, but by the same token, I think the odds are such that ‘Joe’ doesn’t have much of a chance because of the demographic, the financial disparities and his lack of experience.”

In his primary, Mr. Wurzelbacher eked out a win with about 1,500 votes separating him and his opponent. The Republican establishment has essentially written off the race, Mr. Sutton said, meaning that the underdog Mr. Wurzelbacher will find it difficult to attract the financial support he would need to be competitive.

“Certainly he has wide name recognition as ‘Joe the Plumber,’ but I think there is a difference between recognizing his name and voting for him,” Mr. Sutton said. “I think it’s nice that he says he’s going to knock on every door in the 9th District, but that’s physically impossible. The fact of a campaign is you are going to attract money from people who make a difference if they think you have a chance of winning. The folks that would give that kind of money, who would help him have a campaign that he can really build, are not there.”

Ready for long haul

But Mr. Wurzelbacher, who worked as a plumbing contractor until launching his campaign last fall, said he understands the odds against him — and he is ready for the mental and physical demands of the race.

“Blue collar” doesn’t mean stupid, Mr. Wurzelbacher said. He grew up in a household where his father expected him to read the newspaper for at least an hour a day.

“Obviously, I hated it, but I learned so much,” he said. “Being in a patriotic, military family … he said, ‘Son, you’ve got to know what is going on, locally, within your state, the federal government and the world.’ “

Since his March 6 primary win, he has been besieged for interviews.

“I don’t watch news on TV. I hate it,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said. “The national media … they potshot you. They want to bring something up of a social nature or a cultural nature, and that has nothing to do with what is going on.”

Mr. Wurzelbacher’s frustration with the press was on display this month when CNN asked about his use of the word “queer” in a 2009 interview to refer to gays. The question, he said, was nothing more than a transparent “gotcha” attempt.

On the campaign trail, the Air Force veteran prefers to speak directly, one-on-one, with supporters.

He sees running for Congress as a challenge — he answers email to his campaign personally — and said he seeks in his nascent political bid “not to disrespect myself or my family.”

“I’m supposed to be this dumb, redneck plumber who don’t know nothing,” he said in a moment of mock self-awareness.

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