JUST LET JOE GO…. A new poll from Suffolk University’s political research center confirms what a lot of us suspected: voters really don’t care about “Joe the Plumber.”

[T]he Republican ticket’s emphasis on Joe the plumber — the Ohio man who challenged Obama on his tax plan and who McCain and running mate Sarah Palin are trying to turn into a symbol — is not paying huge dividends, according to the poll.

While 68 percent of Ohio respondents said they recognized Joe the plumber, only 6 percent said that Joe’s story will make them more likely to vote for McCain. An additional 4 percent said the tale made them more likely to vote for Obama; and 85 percent were not affected. In Missouri, where 80 percent had heard of the plumber, 8 percent said they were more likely to vote McCain, 3 percent more likely to vote Obama, and 86 percent said they were not affected by his story.

Greg Sargent noted, “It’s worth pointing out that McCain’s ‘Joe the Plumber’ gambit isn’t just some throwaway one-off gag. It’s a central pillar of McCain’s closing argument on the economy, which is likely to decide this election.”

Quite right. The “throwaway one-off gag” is the focal point of the entire Republican pitch right now. Honestly, McCain’s interest in exploiting Joe has gone from odd to creepy. Joe is the focus of McCain’s stump speech, and today, the McCain campaign launched a new project called the “I’m ‘Joe the Plumber’” campaign. Folks are apparently supposed to send in videos about “living the American Dream” and “standing with” McCain/Palin.

I’m not convinced McCain is definitely going to lose this election, but I think he’d stand a much better chance if he didn’t change the entire message of his campaign on a week to week basis, letting the whole race ride on an odd message about an unlicensed plumber who’d get a generous tax cut under Barack Obama’s tax plan — and who voters apparently care very little about.

If McCain manages to pull out a victory in two weeks, it will be despite an incoherent campaign strategy, not because of it.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.