A plumber whose campaign clashed with Barack Obama’s garnered national attention has died of pancreatic cancer aged 49.
Joseph Wurzelbacher has been dubbed “Joe the Plumber” after challenging the Democratic candidate over his tax plans during a campaign stop in Ohio.
After telling Obama his plans would leave him even poorer, he found himself embraced by the Republican campaign as a symbol of the working-class family man threatened by Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.
The military veteran was diagnosed with cancer last year and died on Sunday, leaving behind his wife Katie and four children.
“Our hearts are broken,” his widow wrote in a statement.
Wurzelbacher’s iconic clash with Obama during the 2008 election campaign earned him the nickname “Joe the Plumber.”
He appeared alongside Obama’s Republican rival John McCain, but did not officially endorse him.
“He fought long and hard, but he is now free from pain,” his wife Katie said after his death on Sunday.
“When I met Joe he was already known to everyone as ‘Joe the Plumber’, but he wrote me something that stuck with me and showed me who he really was: ‘Just Joe “” she added.
“He was an average, honorable man trying to do great things for the country he loved so dearly after being exposed in the public eye for asking a question.”
Obama was shaking hands with voters during a campaign visit to Toledo in October 2008 when he was arraigned.
Wurzelbacher explained to him that his plan to raise taxes on companies earning more than $250,000 a year would impoverish hard-working people.
The candidate insisted that the increase would be small and told him that “when we distribute the wealth, it’s good for everyone”.
This remark was echoed 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 future president hit back, insisting that McCain “wasn’t fighting for Joe the Plumber.” He fights for Joe, the hedge fund manager.
Wurzelbacher himself tried to run for Congress in 2012 on the Republican slate.
His 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 then ran for Congress in Ohio on the Republican slate, losing in 2012 to Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur.
He had opened up about his battle with cancer, telling Faithwire, “God doesn’t promise us an easy road, he just promises to be there for us when we walk those roads.”
His friend Derek Hunter announced 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.
His wife Katie said he died surrounded by his family at home.
“My heart goes out to everyone whose life is touched by cancer,” she added.
“There are so many ups and downs, but we tried to find joy every day.
“He fought long and hard, but now he is free from pain.
He was discharged from hospital before dying at home on Sunday with his wife Katie and their children by his side.
A fundraiser for his family had already raised more than $135,000 on Monday morning.
“I don’t think he lost his battle. Because he knew Jesus, his battle was won.
“Joe’s last wish was to get us back to my family.
“The first night here he gave me a big smile and said ‘we made it.’
“To all those who support us and continue to support us, and there are so many, thank you! You helped bring peace to Joe and I will always be grateful to you.