Donations to GOP congressional hopeful ‘Joe the Plumber’ pour in from beyond Ohio

Maureen LaForge Contributor
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Republican candidate Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher may be facing an uphill battle in his quest to be a member of Congress, but donations to his upstart campaign show how popular he is among conservatives outside his native Ohio.

In the first quarter of 2012, Wurzelbacher’s campaign received donations from 26 states, according to Federal Election Commission data. Less than 7 percent of those contributions came from Ohioans.

The man made famous by his confrontation in 2008 with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama about progressive tax policy is running against incumbent Marcy Kaptur in the newly drawn 9th Congressional District. Kaptur beat Dennis Kucinich, a victim of redistricting, in the Democratic primary.

Kaptur has received donations from 18 states. Most of her individual donors, though, are inside Ohio. She has also raised far more from political action committees (PACs) than Wurzelbacher has.

“An incumbent will always raise a lot more money [than a challenger] and … a lot more money will usually allow them to win,” Georgetown University government professor Michele L. Swers told The Daily Caller.

Whether anti-establishment and tea party candidates wield the same power this year as they did in 2010 is unclear.

Wurzelbacher said he doesn’t consider himself a tea party poster child, and that he isn’t beholden to either Republicans or Democrats.

“I’m an American and I don’t serve either one of those parties. I serve America,” Wurzelbacher told TheDC. If elected, he said he could “represent a lot of people’s voices that aren’t really represented in Congress.”

Republicans in this year’s House races are eager to keep their issues on voters’s minds. “He’s clearly an ideological candidate,” Swers said, “so he’s getting ideological money.”

Wurzelbacher, however, received only a modicum of PAC money in the first quarter — a little more than $7,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. PACs contributed the majority of the Kaptur campaign’s money to date, donating approximately $360,000 by the end of March.

When accounting for all individual donations during the campaign, however, Wurzelbacher is not far behind. He has raised approximately $235,000 through March 31; she, $275,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Even if Wurzelbacher doesn’t win — most political observers predict he won’t — “running for Congress opens doors,” Wurzelbacher said, “and maybe I can help bring more awareness for the issues weighing on American minds.”

People like Wurzelbacher often take on near-impossible races like this one for the public exposure, Swers explained. “If he keeps himself in the political fray, he has more clout.”

“Wurzelbacher’s campaign definitely has a purpose but it’s not to win a seat in Congress,” Caine Cortellino, a former Democratic campaign manager and political consultant, told TheDC.

The Ohio district where Wurzelbacher is running has, by design, a significant Democratic demographic that will make the chance of winning nearly zero, Cortellino said.

“His use by people like Herman Cain could continue to mobilize an extreme fringe of the Republican Party — tea partiers — across the country,” Cortellino said.

Cain, the Godfather’s Pizza mogul and a former GOP presidential candidate, donated $2,550 to Wurzelbacher’s campaign in January.

But it’s grassroots support that Wurzelbacher said he’s counting on.

“I believe talking to people and hearing what they have to say is just as important, if not more important” than traditional forms of advertising, said Wurzelbacher, whose campaign relies heavily on putting feet on the street. He and his supporters, including his wife and son, for example, take “Wurzel Walks” Saturday mornings, knocking on doors in the district.

It’s not all low-tech, though. Wurzelbacher’s campaign has embraced social media, posting YouTube videos and daily blogs on Facebook, and now has a Twitter following that numbers about 7,000. He gained 1,100 new followers last week alone.

Kaptur has approximately 500 followers on the micro-blogging site.

Swers, the Georgetown professor, added that Kaptur’s strong Democratic credentials will play well in the liberal Ohio district. Kaptur is also the longest-serving woman in the House, enjoys strong labor backing and will become the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee — unless Republicans were to lose control of Congress. In that case, she would be the committee’s chairwoman.

The plainspoken Wurzelbacher said that effecting change in Congress would ultimately be like “turning the Titanic on a dime.” But neither political realities nor political fundraising seems to deter him.

“I think all of us at one point think, ‘I could do a better job than that fool’,” said Wurzelbacher, referring to elected officials. “Then the reality of it sets in and you think, ‘How can I raise that kind of money?’”

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