JEFFERSON CITY — Republican state auditor candidate Allen Icet sought to burnish his political outsider credentials Thursday by turning to an Ohio man who gained fame in the 2008 presidential campaign as "Joe the Plumber."
The state lawmaker started a three-day campaign swing with Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher at a pavilion in a Jefferson City park. Wurzelbacher is being paid by Icet to also travel to campaign stops in Camdenton, Springfield, Joplin, Mountain Grove and St. Louis.
Wurzelbacher became an overnight sensation when GOP presidential candidate John McCain repeatedly mentioned him during a debate after Wurzelbacher questioned then-Sen. Barack Obama about his economic policies at a campaign stop.
Icet's Republican opponent Tom Schweich accused Icet of buying Wurzelbacher's endorsement.
Wurzelbacher, who lives near Toledo, said he cares about the outcome of Missouri's auditor race because the financial decisions in one state affect people living elsewhere.
"In this position, we need a man who's honest," Wurzelbacher said. "We need a man who's not going to be beholden to the (Republican National Committee), we need a man who's not going to be beholden to special interest, we need a man who's actually going to sit there and do his job right and do it with honor and integrity."
Icet and Schweich will face-off in an Aug. 3 primary for the right challenge Democratic Auditor Susan Montee. Icet is chairman of the Missouri House Budget Committee, while Schweich served in President George W. Bush's administration as an ambassador for counter-narcotics and justice issues in Afghanistan.
So far, Schweich holds a significant campaign finance advantage over Icet and has the support of much of the Missouri Republican establishment with endorsements from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Sen. John Danforth and national politicians such as former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Icet has served eight years in the House and is chairman of the House Budget Committee but he cannot run for re-election because of term limits. Nonetheless, he calls himself an outsider and said he planned to appeal to voters unhappy with the state and federal government. Icet said campaigning with Wurzelbacher would help.
Since Wurzelbacher gained unexpected national attention two years ago, he has written a book, spoken at conservative gatherings and spent a few weeks as a war correspondent in the Gaza Strip for a conservative website. He has criticized Democrats and Republicans, including McCain.
Wurzelbacher now serves on a Republican Party committee in Ohio and said he has endorsed seven of the candidates in about a half-dozen states of the nearly 150 officer-seekers have asked for his backing. Wurzelbacher said he endorsed Icet because of the lawmaker's honesty and integrity.
Schweich's campaign said in written statements that Icet's campaigning with Wurzelbacher "reeks of desperation" and demonstrates poor judgment. Schweich's campaign also contends that Icet is a "career politician that defines politics as usual."
"This is an expensive house call," said Joe Passanise, the treasurer for Schweich's campaign. "Rather than earn support and endorsements on merit, qualifications and values, Icet is having to buy endorsements."
Icet said his campaign is reimbursing Wurzelbacher for his expenses and income that he loses by campaigning in Missouri instead of working in Ohio. Icet said he did not know how much Wurzelbacher would be paid.
"Joe, he really is just an average guy. He's not a multimillionaire like Mitt Romney who flies in on his Learjet," Icet said. "He's actually driving here, so he has to make an income just like everybody else."