A record crowd gathered to thumb their collective noses at the encroaching “nanny state” and listen to the words of Sam Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, Saturday at the Independence Institute’s annual Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Party.
Revelers made their way about an hour east of Denver to the Kiowa Creek Sporting Club outside Bennett, where an estimated 225 supporters gathered to shoot clay pigeons, imbibe potent potables and puff on cigars at the Golden-based think tank’s annual fundraiser, dubbed “the most politically incorrect event of the year.”
This year’s festivities inaugurated a full schedule of discussions — “Nanny Panels” — and a speech by conservative gadfly Andrew Breitbart on Friday at a Denver hotel (listen here to Independence Institute President Jon Caldara discuss the events with Amy Oliver). Topics included the economics of the “nanny state,” sin taxes and how to fight creeping state parentalism.
Perhaps because Friday’s program broke out much of the intellectual firepower usually on display at the famous ATF party — now in its seventh year — the “Shoot it, slam and smoke it” festivities were more relaxed than in years past. A handful of state lawmakers and Republican candidates showed up, including state Sen. Nancy Spence, Secretary of State candidate Scott Gessler, 7th Congressional District hopeful Brian T. Campbell, and U.S. Senate candidate Ryan Frazier.
After four hours of target shooting, and a seemingly endless supply of stogies, merrymakers settled in for lunch and some harsh words from civil libertarian and Reason magazine editor Radley Balko, who also spoke at Friday’s event. But the real star was Wurzelbacher, whose Joe the Plumber persona turned an impromptu campaign-trail question for Barack Obama into a career as a conservative pitchman.
Wurzelbacher — who really is a plumber, though he admitted he hadn’t gotten a license after moving to Ohio last year — stayed mainly on the rails in a brief speech to partygoers.
“This country has been great for over 180 years,” Wurzelbacher said after urging folks to study the Constitution. It wasn’t clear whether something happened in the late 1820s to make the United States great, but other than a few puzzled glances from the crowd, everyone went with it.
Answering questions from the well-lubricated crowd, Wurzelbacher revealed that he hasn’t made any money from the book he wrote, “Joe the Plumber – Fighting for the American Dream,” issued by the tiny PearlGate Publishing imprint, but suggested there could be “Joe the Plumber” Christmas ornaments in his merchandising future.
Will he consider running for public office?
“Absolutely not,” Wurzelbacher said. “Grassroots is where it’s at.”
Asked who might win his support among potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Wurzelbacher dismissed Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (“No … no”), before sounding like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin might be his choice.
“Sarah Palin? Maybe,” he said. “She’s a nice lady and I like her. She doesn’t have that gleam of power in her eyes.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won some praise from Wurzelbacher, who ultimately said he worried the candidate was giving in to his handlers.
When it comes down to it, Wurzelbacher said, he didn’t prefer a Republican or a Democrat. “I want an American leader,” he said to cheers.