TOLEDO, Ohio — Joe the Plumber is plunging into politics because he thinks it's about time America had a few mechanics, bricklayers and, yes, plumbers in Congress.
Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher was thrust into the political spotlight after questioning Barack Obama about his economic policies during the 2008 presidential campaign. He officially launched his campaign for Congress in Ohio on Tuesday night.
Wurzelbacher said he's running as a Republican in Ohio's 9th U.S. House district, a seat now held by Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving Democratic woman in the House. She's expected to face a primary challenge from Rep. Dennis Kucinich after Ohio's redrawn congressional map combined their two districts into one that appears heavily tilted toward Democrats.
Wurzelbacher has become an icon for many anti-establishment conservatives and has traveled the country speaking at tea party rallies and conservative gatherings since becoming a household name.
"Americans deserve all kinds of people representing them," he said. "Not just an elite, ruling class."
He said he's seeking office because he's seen too many people forced out of their homes and leave Ohio because of the poor economy.
"All I'm asking for is a fair shake," he said.
Wurzelbacher insisted that he's not trying to capitalize on his fame. "I've been Joe the Plumber for three years now," Wurzelbacher said. "I haven't made millions of dollars off it."
Republicans who recruited him to run in what is a blue-collar district stretching from Toledo to Cleveland think his fame will help bring in enough money to mount a serious challenge. He set up a website to raise money within the last week.
Cuyahoga County Republican Chairman Rob Frost, who had announced he would seek the GOP nomination, dropped out last week, clearing the way for Wurzelbacher.
"People have said this is a guy who took his 15 minutes of fame and turned it into a half hour," said Lucas County GOP Chairman Jon Stainbrook. "But you've got a guy who's out there and people are relating with him."
He'll appeal to people who are tired of politics as usual, Stainbrook said. "He's tapped into this sentiment that things in Washington are screwed up," Stainbrook said
Politicians, Wurzelbacher said, too often try to patch problems instead of fixing them. "I'm not the kind of plumber who uses duct tape," he said
Wurzelbacher, 37, went from toiling as a plumber in suburban Toledo three years ago to media sensation in a matter of days after questioning Obama about his tax policies and being repeatedly cited by Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain in a presidential debate.
He campaigned with McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, but he later criticized McCain and said he did not want him as the GOP presidential nominee.
Since then, he's written a book, worked with a veterans' organization that provides outdoor programs for wounded soldiers and traveled the country speaking at tea party rallies and conservative gatherings.
He said he's also been building houses and working as a plumber.
Wurzelbacher has shown a disdain for politicians – both Democrat and Republican.
"Being a politician is as good as being a weatherman," Wurzelbacher said at a tea party rally last year in Nevada. "You don't have to be right, you don't have to do your job well, but you'll still have a job."
He said on Tuesday that he decided to enter politics as a Republican because he figured he'd have no chance to win as an independent."Is it the lesser of two evils?" he said. "I don't know."