Connie Mack Attack

The frontline of a political campaign is not for the weak stomached. The scripts and variables are fluid. It can get awkward and painful to watch.

The scene in Pensacola today became unbearable long before Congressman Connie Mack III (R-Ft. Myers) arrived at the gas station. The U.S. senate hopeful was in town—at a Raceway station on Nine Mile Road—campaigning and preaching the gospel of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Mack’s visit was scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday. His prep team arrived a few minutes prior and blocked off pump number three, setting up a microphone and campaign signs.

As the advance guys waited for Mack, it became apparent that the candidate’s appearance would be less then glossy. The waiting crowd consisted of two members of the media, Escambia County Commission candidate Sam Archer, a guy who decided to stick around after pumping gas, two folks who’d later request a photo with Mack and a guy with a ponytail in a Florida Gator sun visor and Obama pin becoming increasingly agitated.

“Why aren’t we using what God gave us?” the man in the visor questioned Archer as they waited for the show to begin. “The wind, the sun?!”

Rep. Mack is currently on a tour of Florida as he attempts to make it to the U.S. senate. This week has seen him make campaign stops in Ft. Myers, Miami and Tampa. Tomorrow he goes to Tallahassee.

“We’re trying to pack in as much as we can,” said Jeff Bechdel, the campaign’s deputy communications director, as he waited for the candidate.

Eventually, a dark Ford SUV pulled into the Raceway parking lot and Bechdel signaled that the candidate was arriving. The Ford parked at pump number one and the candidate stepped up to the microphone at pump number three.

Mack didn’t seem phased by the scenario. He didn’t seem to notice that there were only a half dozen people listening to him at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and one of them was about ready to lose it.

The candidate said that it was time to go ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline. He said the project would create jobs and decrease the country’s dependency on Middle Eastern and South American oil. Mack called the pipeline “very environmentally friendly.”

At the end of his brief comments, Rep. Mack took questions from those gathered around pump number three. The first question pertained to the candidate’s claims regarding the Keystone—critics have charged that most of the jobs associated with the project will be short-term and the oil will travel to a Gulf of Mexico port where it will be put onto the world market, as opposed to alleviating supply needs in the U.S.

“Those are two liberal, flawed arguments,” Mack said.

While conceding that the oil would travel from Canada, through the U.S.—over Nebraska’s sensitive sandhills and one of the country’s major aquifers— to be sold onto the world market, Mack said that it was better to be supporting a Canadian venture than purchasing oil elsewhere. He also noted that two Florida companies stood to participate in the pipeline’s construction.

“Anyone else?” Mack said, looking to the handful of people on the other side of the oil-stained fueling station.

The man in the Gator visor—Barry Goodson—had been raising his hand for some time already. When the candidate acknowledged him, the man let loose concerning the pipeline and eventually got around to asking if he also supported drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida’s coast.

“I support it,” Mack said, clarifying that he didn’t support drilling “three miles off the coast” and also wanted to see the military mission line protected.

After deflecting a couple of more questions regarding the Keystone pipeline’s environmental effect, Mack’s team called the game.

“Thank you!” Bechdel announced, motioning for Mack to get back into the Ford.

But Goodson wasn’t finished. He continued to press the candidate about various points regarding the Keystone project.

“Northwest Florida doesn’t appreciate a snake-oil salesman,” he told Mack.

The candidate stepped away from his pump number three post and engaged Goodson, who called the lawmaker’s claims regarding Keystone “bogus.”

“Tell me what’s bogus?” Mack said, making his way back to his vehicle.

Goodson continued to hammer Mack. He talked about how he didn’t think the pipeline would decrease foreign-oil dependency and about short-term jobs and environmental hazards.

“You know, you’re dad, Connie Mack, was a good man,” Goodson yelled at him. “You’re riding on your daddy’s coattails!”

The candidate posed for a photo with two people standing near the Ford, and then promptly left the Raceway station.

“He called me a loudmouth,” Goodson said afterwards. “He called me a jackass. The jackass is him!”