Who Is 'Joe the Plumber' from the Presidential Debate?

Who Is 'Joe the Plumber' from the Presidential Debate?
Obama and Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher
Jae C. Hong/AP

10/16/2008 AT 09:55 AM EDT

Who was the big winner in Wednesday night's heated presidential debate? Oddly enough, it wasn't Barack Obama or his Republican opponent John McCain.

Meet plumber Joe Wurzelbacher, an unknown from Ohio, whose first name was invoked nearly a dozen times during the third and final showdown for the would-be-presidents.

Wurzelbacher met Obama in Toledo earlier this week, and explained that he'd been working as a plumber for 15 years. He claimed that, under the Democratic hopeful's tax plan, he'd never be able to buy the business. (Because it earns more than $250,000, it would be taxed at a higher rate – 39 rather than 36 percent – under Obama's plan, the Associated Press reports.)

"It's not that I want to punish your success," Obama told Wurzelbacher at the time. "I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you ... [has] a chance at success, too."

McCain seized on the encounter during the debate, using the plumber's story as an example of how Obama's economic policies could hurt small business owners.

"Joe, I want to tell you, I'll not only help you buy that business that you worked your whole life for and I'll keep your taxes low and I'll provide available and affordable health care for you and your employees," the GOP candidate said, looking directly into the camera. "And I will not stand for a tax increase on small business income."

Obama fired back, noting that "98 percent of small businesses make less than $250,000."

Wurzelbacher's response to playing such a prominent role in the debates?

"It's pretty surreal, man, " he told the Associated Press.

But he still won't disclose who'll get his vote on Nov. 4. As he told the wire service, "That's for me and a button to know."

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