Joe The Plumber Dies: Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher Became Media Flashpoint After Encounter With Barack Obama

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, popularly known as Joe the Plumber after he confronted then-presidential candidate Barack Obama about taxes at a 2008 campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer. He was 49.

His death was announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, by his friend, the conservative radio host Derek Hunter.

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“Horrible news,” Hunter wrote yesterday. “My good friend Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, passed away this morning at the age of 49 from pancreatic cancer. He was a good man and an exceptional friend.”

According to the fundraising website GiveSendGo, Wurzelbacher had recently undergone treatment for the cancer at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital and the University of Michigan Hospital.

Wurzelbacher became a media sensation and conservative activist after he approached Obama during a crowded rally to ask the candidate about a new tax plan that would target people who made more than $250,000 annually. The calm exchange was captured by TV cameras and became a rallying point for Obama opponents.

“I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year,” Wurzelbacher, who would identify himself as a plumber, said. “Your new tax plan’s going to tax me more, isn’t it?” As part of a lengthy response, Obama said, “It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance at success, too.”

Soon after, the exchange became a topic of one of the presidential debates between McCain and Obama.

Though Wurzelbacher did not immediately declare his preference for either candidate – he would later become a supporter of Obama’s opponent John McCain – he said the Obama tax plan was “one step closer to socialism,” and he soon became ubiquitous, if briefly, on television talk shows and news programs. His presence on the political scene also included controversy: It was later revealed that Wurzelbacher earned far below that $250,000-per-year threshold and was not at the time a licensed plumber.

Wurzelbacher later secured representation, including a potential record deal, according to Politico. After the 2008 election, he did appear in a commercial, published a book and continued to speak out on politics. He ran for Congress as a Republican in an Ohio district in 2012, but was defeated by Democrat Marcy Kaptur.

Wurzelbacher is survived by wife Katie and four children.

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