Joe the plumber's 15 minutes of fame took a sour turn today.
The star of Wednesday night's presidential debate, Joe Wurzelbacher, appeared on several national TV news shows and both campaigns kept mentioning him. But it was reported that he doesn't have an actual plumber's license and owes back taxes to the state of Ohio.
Wurzelbacher confronted Democrat Barack Obama over his tax policy during a campaign stop on Sunday in Ohio, so during the debate, Republican John McCain repeatedly referred to him to go after Obama on taxes and healthcare.
"The real winner last night was Joe the plumber. Joe's the man," McCain said, giving a thumbs-up at his first post-debate campaign rally today in Pennsylvania.
He said on Fox News Channel yesterday that he and Wurzelbacher were probably "going to be spending some time together" on the campaign trail.
UPDATE: Tonight, McCain's campaign launched a new TV ad featuring Wurzelbacher to criticize Obama on taxes.
It shows a clip of Obama's conversation with Wurzelbacher, then a series of newspaper headlines that question Obama's tax cut plan because it would benefit some people who don't pay income taxes.
"Just as you suspected, Obama's not truthful on taxes," the announcer says in the ad.
While he won't say who he will vote for, Wurzelbacher voted in the Republican primary and is critical of Obama's plan to end the income tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year, saying it would stifle his dream to buy a plumbing company.
"Just because you work a little harder, to have more money taken from you -- that's scary," Wurzelbacher said on ABC's "Good Morning America" today. "Why should they be penalized for being successful?...Obama wants to take that basic right and penalize me for it. That's a very socialistic view."
But Obama and his running mate, Senator Joe Biden, today questioned the plumber's working-class cred.
"How many plumbers you know making a quarter of a million dollars a year?" Obama asked supporters in New Hampshire.
Biden said on NBC’s "Today" show: "The Joe the plumbers in my neighborhood, the Joe the cops in my neighborhood, the Joe the grocery store owners in my neighborhood -- they make, like 98 percent of the small businesses, less than $250,000 a year. And they’re going to do very well under us, and they’re going to be in real tough shape under John McCain."
The plumbers' union, which says it was the first union to back Obama, also criticized what it called McCain's "manufactured outrage on behalf of Joe." It would be "a lot more believable if his economic plan had anything to do with helping working people deal with the economic crisis," Steve Kelly, assistant general president of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, said in a statement. "Instead, it washes the middle class down the drain."
The Associated Press reported that Wurzelbacher doesn't have a plumbing license and doesn't need one because he works for someone else, a small company that does residential work.
But the county Wurzelbacher and his employer live in, Lucas County, requires plumbers to have licenses, and neither Wurzelbacher nor his employer are licensed there, the AP said.
And Bloomberg News reported that Wurzelbacher owes the state of Ohio almost $1,200 in back income taxes. According to records on file with the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, the state filed a tax lien for $1,182.98 on Jan. 26, 2007, that is still active, Bloomberg said.
Before those news reports, Wurzelbacher, 34, said he was feeling overwhelmed by the sudden attention.
"I'm kind of like Britney Spears having a headache. Everybody wants to know about it," he told reporters gathered outside his home near Toledo. "I just hope I'm not making too much of a fool of myself."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.