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By Andrea Hopkins
CINCINNATI Oct 16 After Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama made him into the most famous plumber in America, it turns out Joe Wurzelbacher isn't a licensed plumber after all. Oh, and his real name is Sam.
The morning after he emerged as the unexpected star of Wednesday evening's U.S. presidential debate, Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio, found himself at the center of a media frenzy, with reporters camped out on his front lawn and his phone ringing off the hook.
But it wasn't long before the Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Service Mechanics revealed that Wurzelbacher was not a licensed member of their trade.
"That means that he has not completed the training program necessary for him to sit for a license test," said Tony Herrera, market recovery specialist for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 50 in Toledo, Ohio.
"It's a shame that this guy has ended up in this situation because it seems like he's misrepresented himself -- and for that matter the plumbing and pipefitting industry."
Without a license, Wurzelbacher cannot practice in the city of Toledo but can work for someone with a master's license or in outlying areas that do not require a license, Herrera said.
Wurzelbacher, 34, listed in the phone directory as Samuel, did not answer his phone and his voicemail box appeared to be full. Reporters at his home said he had driven away.
Wurzelbacher has become a darling of conservatives for attacking Obama's tax policies but he has declined to say who he will vote for in the Nov. 4 election.
"It's a personal decision, and myself and the button I push will know the answer," the single father said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program.
Later, outside his home, he told reporters: "I want the American people to vote for who they want to vote for" in an informed way.
'MUDDY AND SOAKING WET'
In the midst of an economic crisis, "Joe the Plumber" came to prominence last week as the working class everyman when he asked Obama about his tax plan during a campaign stop. That led to an appearance on Fox News and an invitation to a McCain rally.
Wurzelbacher said the sudden attention had not yet translated into increased business.
"I hope I have a lot of jobs today. Yesterday I worked on a water main break for a gas station and that's why I didn't give any interviews. I was muddy and soaking wet," he said.
Obama and McCain repeatedly invoked Wurzelbacher in their third and final debate on Wednesday as they sought to appeal to average Americans.
McCain said Obama's plan to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year would hurt small-business owners like Wurzelbacher. Obama said he would make it easier for Wurzelbacher to provide health insurance for his employees.
Wurzelbacher told ABC he was "not even close" to earning $250,000 but worried that Obama would raise taxes for those making less.
Wurzelbacher said he was pleased with the Republican candidate's performance in the debate.
"McCain came across with some solid points and I was real happy about that," he said.
For their part, the plumbers at the Local 50 union hall said they would love to find a job that would give them the kind of income Wurzelbacher is worried about being taxed by Obama.
"If there's a plumber or pipefitter making more than $250,000, we want to know where he's working," Herrera said with a laugh. "We don't make that kind of money."
The plumber's union, like almost all labor groups in America, backs the Democratic Party.
"The real Joe the Plumber supports Barack Obama," Herrera said. (Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan and Mike Conlon; Editing by John O'Callaghan)