TOLEDO, Ohio — Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher, who came into the political spotlight as “Joe the Plumber” after questioning Barack Obama on his economic proposals during the 2008 presidential campaign, and later launched himself -even in politics, 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 on an online fundraising site this year that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer.
“The only thing I have to say is that he was a real patriot,” Joey Wurzelbacher – whose father went by the middle name Joseph and was called Joe – said in a phone interview. “What is important is that everyone comes to God. That’s what he taught me, and that’s a message I hope will be heard by a lot of people.
He went from working as a plumber in suburban Toledo, Ohio, to life as a media sensation when he asked Obama about his tax plan during a campaign stop.
Their exchange and Obama’s response that he wanted to “spread the wealth” was often broadcast on cable news channels. A few days later, Obama’s Republican opponent, US Senator John McCain, repeatedly quoted “Joe the Plumber” during a presidential debate.
Wurzelbacher soon came under intense media scrutiny and admitted he didn’t have a plumber’s license, saying at the time he didn’t need one because he worked for a small plumbing business owned by someone else.
Wurzelbacher then campaigned with McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. But he later criticized McCain in his book and said he didn’t 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 made a bid for a seat in the United States House of Representatives in Ohio. But he 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 should 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.
Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania contributed to this report.