Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher, nicknamed “Joe the plumber” after questioning Barack Obama on his economic policies during the 2008 presidential campaign – and who later entered politics himself – has died, his son announced on Monday . He was 49 years old.
His eldest son, Joey Wurzelbacher, said his father died in Wisconsin on Sunday after a long illness. His family announced earlier this year on an online fundraising site that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer.
“The only thing I have to say is that he was a real patriot,” the young Wurzelbacher said of his father in a phone interview. “What’s important is for everyone to come to God. That’s what he taught me, and it’s a message that I hope many people will hear.”
He went from plumber in suburban Toledo, Ohio to media sensation when he asked Obama about his tax plan during a campaign stop.
Wurzelbacher asked, “I’m about to buy a business that makes between $250,000 and $280,000 a year – your new tax plan is going to tax me more, right?
Their exchange and Obama’s response that he wanted to “spread the wealth” were broadcast frequently on cable news channels. Soon after, Obama’s Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, repeatedly quoted “Joe the Plumber” during a presidential debate.
Wurzelbacher continued to campaign with McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, but later criticized McCain in his book and said he did not want him as the GOP presidential nominee.
His sudden fame made him a sought-after voice for many dissenting conservatives, and he traveled the country speaking at Tea Party rallies and conservative rallies.
He also wrote a book and worked with a veterans organization that provided outdoor programs for injured soldiers.
In 2012, he tried to secure a seat in the House of Representatives in Ohio, but lost to Democrat Marcy Kaptur, in a riding heavily tilted in favor of the Democrats.
Republicans had recruited him to run and believed his fame would help bring in enough money to issue a serious challenge. But he was criticized during the campaign for suggesting the United States build a fence on the Mexican border and “start shooting” at immigrants suspected of entering the country illegally.
Wurzelbacher returned to his job as a plumber after quitting politics, his family said.
Funeral arrangements were pending. Survivors include his wife, Katie, and four children.