Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio man who became well-known as “Joe the Plumber” after questioning Barack Obama about his tax plan during the 2008 election campaign, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 49.
Wurzelbacher died on Sunday morning after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer, according to close friends. He is survived by his wife Katie, their three young children – Samantha Jo, Henry and Sarah Jo – and an adult son, Joey, from a previous marriage.
A crowdfunding campaign for Wurzelbacher’s family raised more than $120,000.
Wurzelbacher rose to national fame after asking Barack Obama, then the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, about his tax plan and whether he’d have to pay more as a small business owner.
“I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250-280,000 a year. Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?” Wurzelbacher asked Obama at a campaign stop near Toledo, Ohio in October 2008.
Obama admitted Wurzelbacher would have to pay more in taxes for revenue above $250,000, explaining that he wanted to give smaller businesses a tax cut to “spread the wealth around.”
Republican opponent John McCain seized on those comments, which he said exposed Obama for having a socialist, wealth-distributing world view.
Afterwards, Wurzelbacher joined McCain and his running mate, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, at campaign events and he became a key topic at the third and final presidential debate, with “Joe the Plumber” representing the quintessential American everyman.
In 2012, Wurzelbacher unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House in Ohio’s 9th congressional district.
Some of his public comments were criticized, including in 2014, when he wrote an open letter to the families of victims killed in a mass shooting, saying: “As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights [to bear arms].”
In 2016, Wurzelbacher said he voted for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who won the election.
“He’s a winner. He’s made billions. He’s dated beautiful women. His wife is a model. That’s not to sniff at. And a lot of people believe he can bring that kind of success to the White House,” Wurzelbacher said in an interview with Reuters in 2016.