Local faces show up in Joe the Plumber ads
By Mark Wineka
Rowan County has some Joe the Plumbers who have caught their 15 minutes of political fame in a nationally distributed television ad for Republican John McCain.
While it might seem the voters featured in the 30-second “Sweat Equity” ad are from across the country, at least a half dozen are people who were drafted from Rowan County.
The ad was, in fact, taped in the backyard of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s house in Salisbury on an October Sunday afternoon after “Joe the Plumber” became a catch phrase of the McCain presidential campaign.
Joe the Plumber refers to Joe Wurzelbacher, an Ohio plumber concerned about the effect Democrat Barack Obama’s tax plan might have on small businesses.
Near the ad’s opening, after Wurzelbacher is shown talking at a campaign event with Obama, Rowan Countians Lauren Penley, Karen DeGraaf and Tena Steen say proudly in succession, “I’m Joe the Plumber.”
Later on, Vietnam veteran Larry Edwards of Salisbury completes the statement, “I’m supposed to work harder …” by asking, “just to pay more taxes?”
And Karen DeGraaf’s husband, Dan, concludes the commercial with the question: “Obama wants my sweat to pay for his trillion dollars in new spending?”
There were others with Rowan County connections. Ray (last name not available), is an information technology manager for Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency. He delivers the opening line of the question that Edwards completes.
N.C. Rep. Fred Steen, R-Rowan, says a woman in a non-speaking role in the ad, Cindy Hobbs, doesn’t live here any longer, but she is the niece of Jean McCombs of Faith.
Margaret Kluttz, former Salisbury mayor and state director for Dole, played a role in lining up some of the local talent for the McCain ad. The film crew stayed on the site for the taping of an Elizabeth Dole ad later that evening inside the senator’s home.
Steen said Tena, his wife, has gotten calls and comments from family in Missouri, Texas, Florida and Virginia.
“From the feedback our family is getting ó seeing Tena ó it’s all over the place,” Fred Steen said.
Penley, 25, a college student and nanny, said 15 people were part of the taping.
Those chosen for the commercial were given about 15 different phrases to repeat on camera, in addition to “I’m Joe the Plumber.” The assembled voters signed a waiver to allow the McCain campaign to show the commercial nationwide, and they also gave permission for their images and words to be used in other ads.
Penley wears a serious expression in the advertisement, and she said Thursday it is counter to her usually bubbly personality.
“Normally, I keep my political views to myself,” Penley added, “but I guess now I’m a face for McCain.”
The people in the commercial were not paid, she said.
To Penley, saying “I’m Joe the Plumber” means simply that she’s “an all-American person,” who’s living day to day and trying to get by.
In answering that question for the campaign, Penley wrote that she had worked hard to get where she is but was concerned she might have a difficult time finding a job after she graduates because of the bad economy.
Penley said the reactions she has received from being on the commercial have been “very interesting.” “For a lot of people, it’s taken them off guard,” she said.
The woman she works for called her at 7:15 on the first morning the ad ran. She told Penley, “You are not going to believe it, but you made the commercial.”
Her sister soon found the ad on YouTube, where Penley viewed it for the first time. She later caught it several times on regular television.
“It’s really been quite fun,” Karen DeGraaf said. Every day seems to bring new telephone messages from people seeing the DeGraafs for the first time.
A sister-in-law who was in Las Vegas saw it on television there.
The DeGraafs live a few houses away from Dole’s residence, and someone knocked on their door that Sunday and asked whether they were McCain supporters and, if so, would they appear in an ad for the candidate.
The couple’s son, a high- schooler not yet of voting age, was more excited than anyone else, his mother said. The family also saw the commercial on the Internet first, then regular television.
“I’m not like Joe the Plumber in the sense that I don’t own my own business,” DeGraaf said.
But she and her husband consider themselves regular people who are both fortunate to have jobs, DeGraaf said. They see their dollars not going as far as they used to, “and it worries me that with Obama’s tax ideas, we will see less and less,” DeGraaf said.
Another thing that troubles the couple is that they may have to cut back on their financial contributions to worthy causes.
The commercial featuring the Rowan County voters can be seen at www.johnmccain. com.