Factoring in a plumber

The Baltimore Sun

MIAMI - Make way, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin - it looks like there's another polling phenomenon in Florida: the Joe the Plumber Effect.

As he pounds Obama for telling America's most famous handyman that he wants to "spread the wealth around," John McCain is improving his standing in Florida, with a poll showing the Republican presidential candidate with a 1 percentage-point lead yesterday.

The Mason-Dixon Polling and Research survey shows McCain's numbers have remained static at 46 percent since early October, while Obama's support has decreased three percentage points to 45.

The results mirror three other Florida polls this week that, taken together, show the race is dead even as Democratic nominee Obama's momentum appears to have slowed. Not only does the economic crisis - a benefit to Obama - no longer lead the newscasts, but McCain has finally seized on an issue by using the plumber to talk taxes, welfare and socialism, said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker.

"Joe the Plumber created the situation where Obama made a public relations mistake about spreading the wealth around," Coker said. "So there's a Joe the Plumber Effect to the degree that McCain finally found some sort of economic message that people can relate to - taxes."

Coker didn't specifically poll Joe the Plumber as an issue. Personality issues can fade in importance as campaigns go on, as happened with both Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Palin.

But taxes, Coker said, "are a big, big deal" in Florida, a state with no income tax and incessant complaints about sales and property tax increases.

Until now, Obama has successfully pounded the message home that 95 percent of people would get a tax cut. And that includes Joe the Plumber, aka Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher, who had his by-now-famous exchange with Obama when the Democrat walked his precinct in Toledo, Ohio.

Wurzelbacher, who makes about $40,000 yearly, would actually get a bigger tax cut under Obama's plan than McCain's, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Obama would raise taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 yearly and on families with an income of $250,000.

McCain invoked Wurzelbacher's name repeatedly during last week's debate in an effort to say that small businesses would see a tax increase under Obama - though a Tax Policy Center analysis said, "The vast majority of small businesses would not be affected by Obama's income tax" increase that targets about 4.6 percent of all businesses in the top two income-bracket tiers.

For months, Obama has insisted on the campaign trail and even in his acceptance speech that he'd cut taxes on 95 percent of all taxpayers.

McCain has tried to frame him as an overall tax raiser anyway and Republicans have tried to blame the Obama campaign for attacking Wurzelbacher after media reports showed he couldn't afford to buy the business he wanted and that he wasn't a licensed plumber.

"He's decided to completely make up, just fabricate this notion that I've been attacking Joe the Plumber," Obama said Tuesday in Miami. "I got nothing but love for Joe the Plumber; that's why I want to give him a tax cut."

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