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Can 'Joe The Plumber' Get Elected to Congress?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 11, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

How would you feel about Joe the Plumber in Congress?

Joe the Plumber, who became a household name during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, is considering running for Congress. Samuel Wurzelbacher--Joe the Plumber's real name--filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Elections Commission last week. Though he has yet to make a final decision, his tentative plan is to seek election in Ohio's 9th Congressional District.

But Wurzelbacher actually lives in Ohio's 5th District.

How can he run for office in a different district from which he lives?

Surprisingly, the Constitution doesn't require members of the House of Representatives to live in the district they represent.

Article I, Section 2 merely states that representatives must (1) be 25 years old; (2) have been a citizen for the past 7 years; and (3) inhabit the state when elected. Joe the Plumber can thus run for any district within Ohio.

Despite the lack of mandate, few Congresspersons reside outside of their district. To live elsewhere is considered politically unsavvy. Those who live in a different district are often criticized and accused of not understanding voters' needs.

And those that reside in an entirely different state are often severely lambasted.

Joe the Plumber's candidacy is easy to analyze because he actually lives in Ohio. But a number of states and candidates have grappled with what it means to "inhabit" a state.

Former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) claimed his Maryland home as his primary residency. And Rep Christopher Smith (R-NJ) owns a home in Virginia, but rents in New Jersey. This seems odd, but at least one court (the 9th Circuit) has said that a candidate need only inhabit the state on Election Day.

Wurzelbacher will certainly be in Ohio come election day. But can he win? Will we see Joe the Plumber in Congress anytime soon? It's too early to tell. But he's certainly got a catchy, ready-made moniker for campaign signs.

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