ANCHORAGE — The star of Wednesday night's presidential debate used to live in Alaska.
And for once we're not talking about Gov. Sarah Palin.
Long before he was "Joe the plumber," Joe Wurzelbacher lived in North Pole and Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks, according to Alaska public records. A family member says Wurzelbacher came to the state in the mid-1990s and stayed about four years — long enough to have the son who can be seen standing next to him in the now famous YouTube clip of Wurzelbacher grilling Sen. Barack Obama about taxes.
Kelly Morrison watched the debate with her husband in Midtown Anchorage. As the candidates sparred over someone named Joe the plumber, her husband kept telling Morrison that it had to be the Joe they know.
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Morrison's sister, Jennifer, is Wurzelbacher’s ex-wife. They've known him for years. At one point, Joe worked as Morrison's plumber when they both lived in Arizona.
Then someone on TV said Joe’s last name.
"I'm like, 'That’s Joe!' And (my husband) said, 'I’ve been trying to tell you that the whole time," Morrison said.
Alaska records show Wurzelbacher listed a North Pole address in 1992 and 1993, and Eielson Air Force Base address in '94 and '95. He applied for hunting permits, owned an old Ford and a new Dodge, and paid a $76 fine in Fairbanks court for speeding.
It was unclear Thursday afternoon whether Wurzelbacher registered to vote while living in Alaska, and if so with which party, Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai wrote in an e-mail.
Wurzelbacher's son was born in the Fairbanks area in 1995, Morrison said.
"Jennifer had called up to Joe to tell him that she was in labor and Joe made it down the stairs just in time, his baby was delivered on the wooden floor in their home," Morrison said.
"That was a huge thing for us ... We joked with them and said, 'OK, you did it the Alaskan way,'" said Morrison, who was living Outside at the time. She later married an Alaskan and moved here herself.
"I met (Joe) when he was working for Roto-Rooter," said her husband, John.
Morrison said Wurzelbacher served in the Air Force and that as far as she knows, he and her sister never met Gov. Sarah Palin, who is now Sen. John McCain’s running mate.
Obama and McCain argued again and again over which candidate would be a better president for "Joe the plumber" during the debate. All those shout-outs made Joe a media superstar overnight.
Even Wurzelbachers who have nothing to do with Joe started fielding questions.
Doug Wurzelbacher, a California dog musher who lived in Palin’s own stomping grounds – the Mat-Su Valley – in 2001 and 2002, said his phone started ringing Thursday from friends, and some strangers.
They wanted to know: Where the two related?
Meanwhile, bloggers discovered the Wurzelbacher name in sled-dog race results online — and that the musher was from Palin’s part of Alaska — and questions began flying about a a possible Doug-and-Joe connection and whether Joe, who confronted Obama in front of television cameras in Ohio, was a plant.
"There’s something smelly about the plumbing in this story," someone wrote on the Daily Kos.
Doug said he's never met Palin and that while his last name is a rare one, he'd never heard of Joe before the debate.
"Somewhere along the line, I got to be related to him, but I don't know him," Doug said
Morrison first met Joe Wurzelbacher in Ohio in the late '80s, when he was dating her sister.
"She said, 'I’m going to bring my boyfriend home and I think he's the one. You're my older sister and I want you to tell me what you think and here comes this big guy walking through the front door," Morrison said.
The Wurzelbachers married and moved to Fairbanks, then left the state about four years later to be closer to family, she said.. Jennifer now lives in Michigan and declined to be interviewed. The couple’s son, Joey, lives with his father, Morrison said.
Morrison said she lasted talked to Wurzelbacher maybe two years ago. "He wanted to actually come up here and do something hunting and fishing."