October 18, 2008 / 6:54 PM / 11 years ago

Joe the Plumber drained by election spotlight

HOLLAND, Ohio (Reuters) - After three days as a key figure in the U.S. presidential campaign, Joe the Plumber would like his old life back — as soon as he finishes another round of interviews.

Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) speaks to Joe Wurzelbacher as he canvasses a neighbourhood in Holland, Ohio in this October 12, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Young/Files

“I’m just a plumber. I just want to get on with my life and do my job,” Joe Wurzelbacher said in an interview on Friday outside his modest home in middle America. “I’d prefer to do that without people camped out on my doorstep.”

Wurzelbacher’s privacy became a victim of modern day politics. Anxious to appear in touch with ordinary Americans ahead of the November 4 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain brought Wurzelbacher, 34, into the glare of the presidential election campaign in their debate Wednesday night and the plumber’s life has been far from ordinary ever since.

Early in the debate McCain cited Wurzelbacher as an example of someone who would be hurt under Obama’s tax plan. The sparring candidates went on to refer to Joe the Plumber more than two dozen times in the televised debate and within hours a media circus had descended on a previously quiet street of modest homes in the suburbs of Toledo.

Reporters quickly revealed that Wurzelbacher did not have a plumbing license, had fallen behind on his taxes, had a real first name of Sam, not Joe, along with other personal details of Wurzelbacher’s life.

It has left Joe the Plumber feeling drained.

“It’s been tough to have the media all over this and coming up with some things that aren’t true,” he said. “I have family to think about, I have a 13-year-old son, it’s hard to have them see so many things about me that are negative.”

CONSERVATIVE MEDIA DARLING

To be sure, Wurzelbacher initially courted the attention. It all started when Obama, campaigning door-to-door in Wurzelbacher’s neighborhood for the benefit of a trailing media pack, met the plumber. Wurzelbacher asked a few pointed questions about Obama’s tax policy, complaining he could not afford some of the provisions.

The confrontation made Wurzelbacher the darling of conservative media for a day or two. Then came the debate.

The single father thinks all the attention is crazy.

“There are bigger issues to worry about than me,” Wurzelbacher said. “Whoever wins the election is going to have to deal with things like people losing their jobs, health care and immigration. This shouldn’t be about me. It should be about them.”

While the media have managed to dig up many personal details of Wurzelbacher’s life, he has kept at least one thing secret: “No one knows who I’m voting for,” he said, although he has said he thought McCain did well in the debate.

McCain has apologized for subjecting Wurzelbacher to such media scrutiny but he is in for a few more days of fame. While camera crews remained stationed outside his home on Friday morning, Wurzelbacher headed to New York for a couple more media appearances.

His house remains a political tourist attraction for those who see Wurzelbacher as one of them — ordinary Americans often overlooked by Washington.

Just after Wurzelbacher headed out, a couple of young guys drove by in a red Chevrolet pickup truck. They slowed down to yell encouragement.

“Good job, Joe,” they said. “Way to go standing up for America.”

Reporting by Nick Carey; Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Bill Trott

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