Coffee with Joe Wurzelbacher

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher and I are seated at Caribou Coffee on 17th and L Streets in Washington, DC.

Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber” looks exactly as you’d expect him to — blue collar and tough. But also friendly. (I’m not sure whether I should order a coffee or a beer.)

“I fix things for a living,” he tells me. (This strikes me as a good line for a plumber who is running for Congress to use.)

Ohio is losing population, and with it, congressional representation. And Wurzelbacher is hoping capitalize — running in a newly-drawn, barbell-shaped district. But he won’t be alone. Two long-serving incumbent Democratic Reps — Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich — are also expected to compete for the seat.

Wurzelbacher, of course, is running in Ohio, but he can’t escape national politics. This is fair since it was his question for then-Sen. Barack Obama that first propelled him onto the national state. And so, I ask him about the presidential race.

“I like Herman a lot,” he says of his friend Herman Cain. “I’m 100 percent behind him. I know the man’s character.”

Asked about Rick Perry, Wurzelbacher calls the Texas governor “a likeable guy,” but adds: “I was hoping that he would stay in Texas and keep running Texas — doing a good job at that.” On Mitt Romney’s recent gaffes in Ohio, Wurzelbacher simply says, “he does it to himself.”

The newly-married Wurzelbacher is in favor of traditional marriage and is “100 percent pro-life.” But like Herman Cain, he later tells me, “the states need to figure that out.”

Social issues aside, he advocates a blue collar, populist message that could catch fire these days — especially in Ohio. “Globalization’s not the answer,” he says.

“Let’s square things here in America first — and then maybe reach out a little bit … make sure we got our, ugh, — can’t say shit together, but — get our ducks in a row before we worry about nation building in other countries.”

“We spend an awful lot of money overseas,” he adds.

Wurzelbacher, who spent much of Thursday at Occupy Wall Street (see the picture above), says he can identify with some in the movement who are saying, “big government is taking care of big business — and I don’t have a job.”

While his populist message might be an easy sell in Ohio — there is little doubt that he will have to overcome some obstacles if he is to win a House seat. He spent nine years trying to gain custody of his son — an effort which was ultimately victorious — but an effort that also left him owing back taxes (he’s currently on a payment plan).

“I had to make a choice — do I pay these bills or do I get custody of my son,” he says.

There’s also the issue over whether or not he is actually a plumber.

He explains that in the Air Force, he was certified as a level 5 (Journeyman) — and ran his own plumbing shop there. Upon leaving the military, he tried to get a union license, but “they wouldn’t give me any credit for any of my experience in the military.” And so, instead of going the union route, Wurzelbacher “worked for master plumbers who already had their license.”  And that’s “as legal as the day is long,” he notes.

The reason Democrats were so outraged by his employment status was that, “if you’re not a union plumber [they think] you’re not really a plumber.”

“I might as well just be a maintenance man [to them],” he said.

He will have other obstacles. For example, his ties to national Republican figures might be a help — or a hindrance. Most people assume he’s close with McCain and Palin — but he says he’s tighter with Mr. Palin.

“I’m friends with Todd [Palin] — Todd’s a damn good guy. We talk politics — but we also talk hunting and fishing,” he says.

In terms of a relationship with McCain, “I was on a bus with him for one day,” he tells me.

Wurzelbacher was astonished that — during the 2008 campaign — nobody from the press ever asked him what issues he agreed with McCain on. “I would have had to say, well — nothing … he’s part of the problem — he’s been there forever … what I’m dealing with here is the lesser of two evils.”

“I’m actually glad Barack Obama got in [the White House], because with John McCain it would have been a slower death to our country,” he said. (He believes Obama’s election caused American’s to wake up and spurred the tea party movement.)

It’s too early to predict whether or not Wurzelbacher can win, but one thing is for sure — he’s a straight talker who makes for an interesting interview. And he is a man on a mission to save the country he loves.

“I’ve mimicked John Wayne most of my life,” he explains. “If you insulted a woman in front of him, he’d slap you around … That’s the America I know and I love.”

Matt K. Lewis