Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher, who became known as “Joe the Plumber” after asking Barack Obama about his economic policies during the 2008 presidential campaign — and who later forayed into politics himself — has died, his son said Monday. He was 49.
His oldest son, Joey Wurzelbacher, said his father died Sunday in Wisconsin after a long illness. His family announced earlier this year on an online fundraising site that he had pancreatic cancer.
“The only thing I have to say is that he was a true patriot,” the younger Wurzelbacher said of his father in a telephone interview. “His big thing is that everyone come to God. That’s what he taught me, and that’s a message I hope is heard by a lot of people.”
He went from suburban Toledo, Ohio, plumber to media sensation when he asked Obama about his tax plan during a campaign stop.
Wurzelbacher asked, “I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year — your new tax plan’s going to tax me more, isn’t it?”
Their exchange and Obama’s response that he wanted to “spread the wealth around” aired frequently on cable news. Soon afterward, Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, repeatedly cited “Joe the Plumber” in a presidential debate.
Wurzelbacher went on to campaign with McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but he later criticized McCain in his book and said he did not want him as the GOP presidential nominee.
His sudden fame turned him into a sought-after voice for many anti-establishment conservatives, and he traveled the country speaking at tea party rallies and conservative gatherings.
He also wrote a book and worked with a veterans organization that provided outdoor programs for wounded soldiers.
In 2012, he made a bid for a U.S. House seat in Ohio but lost in a landslide to Democrat Marcy Kaptur in a district heavily tilted toward Democrats.
Republicans had recruited him to run and thought his fame would help bring in enough money to mount a serious challenge. But he drew criticism during the campaign for suggesting that the United States should build a fence at the Mexico border and “start shooting” at immigrants suspected of entering the country illegally.
Wurzelbacher returned to working as a plumber after he gave up on politics, his family said.
Funeral arrangements were pending. Survivors include his wife, Katie, and four children.