'Joe the Plumber' who challenged Obama over tax dead at 49

‘Joe the Plumber’ who shot to fame when he questioned Barack Obama on his tax plan ahead of 2008 presidential election dies aged 49 after battling pancreatic cancer at home in Ohio

  • Campaign trail clash with the Democrat contender became an iconic image of the 2008 contest
  • He refused to endorse either candidate but later campaigned for the Republicans
  • And he courted controversy later, calling for a ‘white Republic president’
  • Sarah Palin among those paying tribute to the unlikely political star

A plumber whose campaign trail clash with Barack Obama’s garnered national attention has died of pancreatic cancer at 49.

Joseph Wurzelbacher was dubbed ‘Joe the Plumber’ after challenging the Democratic candidate over his tax plans at a campaign stop in Ohio.

After telling Obama the plans would leave him poorer, he found himself adopted by the Republican campaign as a symbol of the working-class family man threatened by the Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.

The military veteran was diagnosed with cancer last year and died on Sunday leaving behind wife Katie, and four children.

‘Our hearts are broken,’ his widow wrote in a statement.

Wurzelbacher’s iconic clash with Obama on the campaign trail in 2008 saw him dubbed ‘Joe the Plumber’

He appeared alongside Obama’s Republican rival John McCain but did not formally endorse him

‘He fought long and hard, but is now free from pain,’ wife Katie said after his death on Sunday

‘When I met Joe he was already known by everyone else as ‘Joe the Plumber’ but he wrote something to me that stood out and showed me who he truly was: “just Joe”,’ she added.

‘He was an average, honorable man trying to do great things for the country he loved so deeply after being thrust into the public eye for asking a question.’

Obama was shaking hands with voters on a campaign visit to Toledo in October 2008 when he was challenged.

Wurzelbacher told him his plan to increase taxes on businesses making more than $250,000 a year would make hard-working people poorer.

The candidate insisted the rise would be small and told him ‘when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody’.

That remark was seized on by Republican candidate John McCain who accused Obama of promoting socialism, and made the concerns raised by ‘Joe the Plumber’ the centerpiece of his campaign.

The soon-to-be president hit back, insisting McCain was ‘not fighting for Joe the Plumber. He’s fighting for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager’.

Wurzelbacher attempted a run for Congress himself in 2012 on the Republican ticket 

Wife Katie said he was an ‘average, honorable man trying to do great things for the country he loved’

Wurzelbacher appeared on stage with McCain but was a reluctant mascot for the Republican campaign, refusing to endorse either candidate.

He later ran for Congress in Ohio on the Republican ticket, losing in 2012 to Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur.

He had spoken of his battle against cancer, telling Faithwire: ‘God doesn’t promise us an easy road, he just promises to be there for us when we go on these roads.’

His friend Derek Hunter posted news of his death on Sunday, tweeting a link to a Givesendgo fundraiser that has already raised $140,000.

‘Horrible news. My good friend Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, passed away this morning at the age of 49 from pancreatic cancer,’ he wrote.

‘He was a good man and an exceptional friend. Please consider helping his widow and young children.’

Sarah Palin, who was McCain’s vice-presidential candidate was among those paying tribute.

‘Joe the Plumber RIP. Thank you for everything,’ she wrote on Twitter.  

Wife Katie said he had died surrounded by his family at home.

‘My heart goes out to everyone whose lives are impacted by cancer,’ she added.

‘There are so many ups and downs but we tried to find joy in every day.

‘He fought long and hard, but is now free from pain.

He was released from hospital before dying at home on Sunday with wife Katie and their children by his side

A fundraiser for his family had already raised more than $135,000 by Monday morning 

‘I don’t think of him as losing his battle. Because he knew Jesus, his battle was won.

‘Joe’s last wish was to get us back by my family.

‘The first night here, he gave me a big smile and said “we made it”.

‘To everyone who has and continues to support us, and there are so many, Thank You! You helped bring Joe peace and for that I will always be grateful.’

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