Posted: May 30, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There was Joe the Plumber from Ohio during the last presidential campaign. There could be Sher the Upholsterer from Delaware during this one.

Joe the Plumber, whose full name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, became a recurring character in 2008 after he had an impromptu debate with Barack Obama about tax policy. Joe the Plumber liked his taste of politics so much, he is running as a Republican in a congressional race this year.

Sher the Upholsterer is Sher Valenzuela, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Along with her husband Eli, they run First State Manufacturing, a thriving business that makes cushions and other upholstery items in Milford for the military and commercial customers, good enough to get themselves named the Small Business Persons of the Year.

Sher the Upholsterer is already part of the presidential dialogue, but not in a way that makes it clear.

Mitt Romney speaks about her in his standard stump speech as he prospects for women's votes, but not by name. Furthermore, his campaign has declined to identify her to the Associated Press, which would love to find her and make sure Romney is telling the straight stuff, and finally just wrote about it, something like sending out an all-points bulletin.

In frustration, the wire service referred to her in a news story last week as the "Woman Whose Husband Took an Upholstery Class."

Actually, Sher the Upholsterer would not mind at all if she was found.

Here she is, practically unknown at home in her race against Matt Denn, the lieutenant governor, and the political juggernaut that is the Delaware Democratic Party. It is hard to think of anything that could be better for her uphill campaign than a daily mention of Sher the Upholsterer from her party's presidential candidate.

Not that her campaign has not tried to make it happen. Telephone calls and e-mail sent to Romney's operation since the Associated Press story appeared just have not gotten through.

"We haven't really connected. We understand he's busy," said Kim Hoey Stevenson, the communications director who is also the secretary of the state Republican Party.

Romney's campaign did not respond to a request for an interview, either.

The connection between Sher the Upholsterer and Romney began last month, when Romney made a campaign stop here before the presidential primary, which he won. He met privately with about a dozen businesswomen, Sher the Upholsterer among them, to listen to their stories before he moved on to a public event, held inside a Wilmington factory.

Sher the Upholsterer impressed Romney so much that he mentioned her immediately afterwards in his speech. Even here in her home state, he did not bother to identify her by name or say she was running for office, although he did commend her as part of the "entrepreneurial spirit of America."

It was obvious who she was, though, and she confirmed it.

Sher the Upholsterer had told Romney that her husband took a mail-order course on how to sew upholstery while he was in the Army in Germany, and eventually they started their company in their garage. She did mention she was running for lieutenant governor, but not much.

"I talked about five minutes, and that probably constituted 10 seconds," Sher the Upholsterer said.

It seemed strange then in Wilmington and strange now on the stump that Romney would not say who Sher the Upholsterer is and finish it off by talking about her candidacy. What could be a more natural applause line?

After all, even Romney and his campaign seem to know they should be talking about her, because they are talking about her without talking about her.

Not to mention it is the least Romney could do to make amends. His trip to Delaware big-footed both Sher the Upholsterer and Jeff Cragg, the Republican running for governor, who had planned for weeks to declare their candidacies that day. They still did, but Romney soaked up the bulk of the news coverage.

So here she is, Sher the Upholsterer, waiting to be found. She could be the next Joe the Plumber, if not for Mitt the Obscurer.