Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) doubled down on his campaign's harsh criticism of the Tampa Bay Times and its politics editor, Adam Smith, ripping his coverage as having a liberal bias and telling him that he wasn't a "real journalist" at a Monday event.
Mack's comments add to an unusually public and personal vendetta against Smith — and constitute the first time the candidate himself has publicly bashed the reporter.
Smith is generally regarded as one of Florida's top political reporters, and has been named one of country's top 10 political reporters by the nonpartisan Columbia Journalism Review.
Another reporter asked Mack on Monday about his campaign manager's letter, as Smith looked on.
"We know that the Tampa Bay times, and our good friend Adam Smith right here, we know that they're a mouthpiece for the liberals in the state. You know when you run statewide you know you've got to run against your liberal Democratic opponent, Senator [Bill] Nelson. But you also have to run against the liberal press, like this guy to my right," Mack said, grinning and putting his hand on Smith's shoulder.
As he walked away, Mack ignored a question from Smith about how many debates he and Nelson had agreed to. Smith then asked him when he would start answering his questions.
"When you decide to be a real journalist," he said, turning to Smith and placing a hand on his shoulder. He walked away as Smith asked what stories in particular had upset him.
The video, shot by a Democratic tracker, was first obtained by The Hill.
Mack has struggled mightily with fundraising in the expensive state
despite Nelson's vulnerability in some polls and the state's partisan
balance, and Republican operatives have privately expressed concern at
the way his race has been run. The Hill rates the race "lean Democratic."
Mack spokesman David James slammed Smith as well. When asked what stories had convinced the campaign of intentional bias, he scoffed.
"Everything speaks for itself. You also have to factor in that he's the political editor for all political content out of all that paper and the Miami Herald," he said, ripping Smith for the paper's editorial endorsing against Mack in the primary.
Newspapers usually have clear divisions between reporters and the editorial staff. When that was pointed out, he said there was no way to know if Smith had been involved or not in the editorial side's decision-making, and said that Smith's recent coverage had been much more critical of Mack than of Nelson.
"If you read the coverage out of the rest of the state it has a far different take on the race than Adam's and the treatment Connie gets is far different," he said. "There is a clear, evidence-based issue that Adam has with Connie."
Smith responded to the charges from Mack and his campaign.
"Congressman Mack seems to believe mistakenly that reporters are involved in editorial board candidate endorsements and recommendations," he said.
While campaigns and reporters often privately tussle over coverage, it is rare for a campaign to publicly accuse a newspaper of overt bias — especially when that paper has the largest circulation in the state.
Watch the exchange:
Updated at 5:23 p.m.