For California viewers, Joe the Plumber was a distraction

At the end of the final presidential debate of 2008, the students gathered to watch Wednesday night at Sacramento State had to answer a critical question.

"Which candidate," asked government professor Kimberly Nalder, "has the Joe-mentum?"

The answer from two dozen students – a near-even split of Democrats, Republicans and independents – was clear: Barack Obama was more persuasive than John McCain.

But the biggest loser was Joe the Plumber.

McCain's debate strategy to wrest momentum from Obama by constantly referring to the circumstances of Joe Wurzelbacher was roundly ridiculed by the students, mostly government majors.

They also criticized Obama for picking up McCain's tactics and proceeding to speak directly to Joe.

The candidates may have seen the Ohio man as a metaphor for which Americans would benefit from their policies on health care, taxes and the economy. But Aliza Egger concluded "the use of Joe the Plumber was an emotional ploy" and a distraction from the substance she wanted to hear.

"I wanted this debate to introduce me to the candidates," said Egger, a Republican. "Joe the Plumber was almost a joke to me. I felt let down."

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