Editor’s Note: Toledo Free Press profiled the Democratic candidates for the District 9 House of Representatives race in the Feb. 26 issue.
You’ve seen and heard about him.
He typically wears jeans and sweaters, even to fancy Republican banquets. Samuel Wurzelbacher — you probably know him as “Joe the Plumber” — is one of the GOP’s fastest-rising stars now running for Ohio’s 9th District seat in Congress. The Holland native, who achieved national fame basically overnight, during the 2008 presidential election, is taking more phone calls than ever, clocking miles across the state and even spending time with former presidential hopeful Herman Cain.
“Joe the Plumber” became a model for the Republican Party after he asked then-presidential candidate Barack Obama during a neighborhood visit whether his tax plan would tax him more for buying a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year.
Obama answered that businesses in that bracket would pay 39 percent, up from the 36 percent collected under Former President Bill Clinton. He continued to say that he thought that spreading wealth around is good for everybody, a belief Wurzelbacher and his Republican colleagues reject.
As a result of the publicity surrounding him, Wurzelbacher lost his job as a plumber, according to his website.
Wurzelbacher’s challenger doesn’t get typical visits from Cain and hasn’t nailed down national endorsements. But Steven Kraus, his opponent, is determined to win over voters between here and Cleveland by March 6, Super Tuesday.
“I think I’m the better candidate; I think I have real solutions and answers to bring jobs back here to revitalize,” Kraus said. “I’m the better qualified candidate — Joe’s got notoriety but that’s about it.”
Samuel ‘Joe the plumber’ Wurzelbacher and Herman Cain on their way to the Feb. 24 Lucas County Republican Lincoln Day dinner. Photo by Joseph Herr
Kraus is a 52-year-old auctioneer and a real estate agent. He is a veteran of the Air Force. His experience, he said, kept him right at on the ground where political decision-making took effect. Kraus joined the Air Force when he was 18-years-old and left in the ’90s and he spent the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia in special operations, under fire constantly.
He “took a stab” at politics when he lived in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. by entering the City Council race. He’s thought about running for the Congressional seat his entire life, but the thought became reality in 2009 and 2010. As a city council candidate, he talked about building sidewalks in neighborhoods to keep children safe. As a Congressional candidate years later, he’s talking about tapping natural gas resources to attempt to keep the economy safe.
“I’m all for getting the EPA off the backs of businesses,” he said.
Kraus said he wants to harvest the natural gas beneath Lake Erie. He also cited a technology called liquid fluoride thorium reactors, a fuel source he advocates. The technology, which was developed after World War II and shelved during the Nixon administration, relies on flouride salt as the medium for nuclear reactions. According to The American Scientist, a research magazine that publishes essays and articles by scientists and engineers, thorium is abundant, creates less toxic fission than uranium and could compete with the cost of coal per kilowatt-hour.
Kraus wants to stop funding for other alternative energy sources such as solar panels or wind farms.
Wurzelbacher, too, said the EPA is too restrictive on business. He told Toledo Free Press that he spends a lot of time outdoors and loves clean air. But he said during his Feb. 24 speech at the Stranahan Theater that he drives a Dodge 4×4 truck and likes to “leave a carbon footprint wherever (he) goes.”
Cain joined Wurzelbacher at the theater for the Lincoln Day Dinner with the Lucas County Republican Party. Tickets cost at least $75 each and the event sold out.
Cain’s tour bus pulled into the parking lot as dusk turned to night. Camera crews, and one devoted fan who drove from Dundee, Mich. to meet Cain, could see the bus from far down the road. It towered above cars it passed — an enormous print of Cain’s face spread across the side, smiling heartily at passers-by. “9-9-9,” a reference to his tax plan, extended across the side too, splashed across the bright red and blue hues covering the windows.
An energetic Cain, wearing his trademark black cowboy hat, emerged from the bus along with Wurzelbacher. Later, at the podium, Wurzelbacher said he didn’t prepare a speech because it makes him feel disingenuous. Even still, he captivated his audience as he addressed them and drew in multiple bouts of spirited applause.
Cain publicly endorsed Wurzelbacher and has toured with the candidate, in the midst of his own tours to promote his tax plan. The two have been friends for a few years, Cain said.
“We started to talk about his newly emerging career and what impressed me about Joe is he listened,” Cain told Toledo Free Press. “The other reason I’m endorsing Joe is he has a lot of common sense.
“We don’t need another legislative expert in Washington, D.C. We’ve got too many of those. We need someone with common sense; I love his character and I love his integrity.”
Plus, Cain added, Wurzelbacher has adopted his tax policy. “9-9-9” urges the government to dump the present tax code and instate a 9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent corporate income tax and a 9 percent national sales tax. Critics have argued that this plan could place a heavier burden on those with less income because they spend more of their paychecks to consume goods and are unable to put their earnings away for savings.
Wurzelbacher also spent time in the Air Force, where he learned values and a respect for “selfless leadership,” according to his wesbite. He later worked as a communications engineer but left that position for plumbing so he could spend more time with his son, a decision that put him in debt with the Internal Revenue Service, according to his website.
If Wurzelbacher wins the primary, he could face one of two Democrats who have held their seats for years. Although he doesn’t have political experience, he is not so much preparing to take on Washington, D.C., as he already was primed for it as a child, he said. His parents insisted he read the newspaper every day starting in the fourth grade and he studied history with the understanding that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” he said. He credits his time in the military as preperation for leadership.
“I do know what needs to be done, yes,” he said. “Do I know the games that they play and the deals that they make and the manipulations of the strategies they do? No. Will I partake in any of that? Absolutely not.”
Democrats Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich and Graham Veysey have turned on each other in the weeks leading up to Super Tuesday. The three share similar philosophies but Kucinich has never voted for defense bills, Kaptur has, and both have criticized one another for those records. Veysey criticizes them both for being “career” politicians and holds them accountable for Cleveland and Toledo’s high poverty rates.
Wurzelbacher referred to campaign attacks as “character assassinations” and asserted that he wouldn’t do the same. He and Kraus have a lot of philosophies in common. In addition to disenchantment with the EPA, both want to dismantle the Federal Department of Education. Wurzelbacher said he sees charter schools and voucher programs as opportunities for low income families to choose where they send their kids. Continuing to fund the education department is not working, he said.
Kraus attributes the problem in public schools to the loss of religious influence in the classroom. He favors charter schools, too because competition would drive the need to improve, he said.
The two are both opposed to abortion — Kraus supported the “Personhood Amendment” in Ohio and Wurzelbacher sees abortion as killing babies — and both tend to dislike the idea of gay marriage. However, both asserted that marriage should be a state right.
“My campaign is all about restoring faith, family and the American dream,” Kraus said. “I believe in the goodness of America.”
Wurzelbacher just wants to put people to work, he said.
“Ultimately, I’m here to get the federal government out of (citizens’) lives so that they can have prosperity,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for — I’m not here to tell them what they’re doing is wrong or right.”
Tags: Herman Cain, Joe the Plumber, Samuel Wurzelbacher, Steve Kraus