More questions about McCain’s tax claims

John McCain and Barack Obama are running close in Ohio, a state President Bush won the last two elections, and Andy Mance may help explain why the Republicans are having trouble pulling away as the 2008 campaign reaches its conclusion.

The Toledo businessman, a self-professed GOP moderate, says he likes McCain but has trouble with the "Joe the Plumber" story the GOP nominee’s been telling nonstop for the better part of a week.

Joe the Plumber himself undercut the tale over the weekend, when Joe Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio, revealed he made far less than $250,000 a year. A week earlier, he complained to Obama that the Democrat’s plan to increase taxes for people earning more than that could keep him from buying the two-person plumbing company where he works.

"The $250,000 remark, I don’t make $250,000," Wurzelbacher said Sunday on "Fox and Friends." "You know, I’ve never even come close to that, nor will I. I mean, I’d have to work, I don’t know, 10 years to get that kind of money, maybe more."

Regardless, the symbolism is lost on Mance, who attended a rally McCain held Sunday just nine miles from Wurzelbacher’s home. Both Mance and Wurzelbacher live in a battleground state with 20 electoral votes.

Mance, the 55-year-old owner of Executone Communications Systems, said he was in the crowd "because business has stunk for the last few years and I’m looking to see if John McCain can change that."

Afterward, he proclaimed, "I’m a small businessman and he said he would lower taxes so I could hire more people. I liked that the best."

Yet McCain’s decision to make Wurzelbacher the center piece of his rally speeches, in which he accuses his Democratic rival of favoring socialistic tax-and-spend policies, rings hollow with Mance.

"I know there’s no business like that that’s making $250,000 a year," Mance said as he and his 14-year-old son, Austen, leaned against a metal barricade in the SeaGate Convention Center. "That whole story didn’t sound kosher to me. I know that from my own business."

Executone Communications Systems is just the kind of business that both Obama and McCain say they want to help as president. It sells business phone and nurse-call systems and employs 14 people, but the number was one higher until Mance had to lay off a worker a week ago.

This year, business started slow, picked up some in the summer, but then nose-dived as a financial crisis consumed Wall Street and dried up business and consumer credit.

In a bit of class warfare, each presidential candidate has cast himself as the guardian of the middle class and small businessmen, whether with personal tax cuts, business deductions or a more hospitable regulatory climate they promise to create if elected. McCain tells crowds such small businesses employ 84 percent of American workers.

"The small businesses Senator Obama would tax provide 16 million jobs in America," the Arizona senator told the crowd. "And a sudden tax hike will kill some of those jobs at a time when we need to be creating more jobs in America. I’m not going to let that happen. I’m not going to let that happen, Toledo, Ohio, or anyplace else in America."

In North Carolina, a traditionally Republican state Obama is trying to steal from McCain, the Democrat rebutted the accusation.

"I promise you this: not only will the middle class get a tax cut under my plan, but if you make less than $250,000 a year — which includes 98 percent of small business owners — you won’t see your taxes increase one single dime," said the Illinois senator. "Not your payroll taxes, not your income taxes, not your capital gains taxes — nothing. That is my commitment to you."