"Joe the Plumber" morphed into "Jose el Plomero" as John McCain campaigned in South Florida on Friday. The Republican presidential hopeful warned Latino voters that Barack Obama would raise taxes on wealthy families and small businesses.
The real-life Joe the Plumber would likely get a tax break under Obama, since his income is well below the quarter-million dollar threshold where Obama's proposed tax hikes kick in. But that hasn't stopped McCain from using the Ohio man's encounter with Obama last weekend to punctuate his own anti-tax message. At a campaign rally in Miami, McCain warned that when Obama talks about "spreading the wealth around," voters should hold on to their wallets.
"His plan gives away your tax dollars to those who don't pay taxes. That's not a tax cut. That's welfare," McCain shouted to cheers from the audience.
McCain's camp complains that some of the refundable tax credits promised under Obama's plan shouldn't be described as "tax cuts," because the recipients are too poor to pay income taxes in the first place. The Obama camp disagrees, saying the credits would offset payroll taxes and other levies. The semantic battle could be important, since tax cuts are more politically palatable than welfare payments.
Whatever the reality of plumber Joe Wurzelbacher's situation, he's become a powerful symbol for many McCain supporters. At Friday's rally, some carried signs saying "Let Joe Keep His Dough," booing lustily whenever McCain quoted Obama about wanting to "spread the wealth around."
"The American people work very hard and they want to keep their money," said Rafael Barca, part of the large Cuban-American community in South Florida. "We don't want the government to take it. That's the bottom line. Socialism is what it is. And coming from Cuba, we heard that story before."
He not only liked what he heard about taxes at Friday's rally, but also McCain's promise not to negotiate. "How can we negotiate with Castro? Or the guy in Iran or Chavez? It's completely ridiculous," Barca said. "McCain has the vision for America. And he's the one that's going to keep us safe."
Right now, McCain is fighting to safeguard Florida for the Republicans, along with a handful of other red states. He campaigns Saturday in North Carolina and Virginia, before heading on to Ohio — Joe the Plumber's home state.