We were browsing through the Orlando Sentinel when we came across a piece by reporter Mark Silva about John Edwards’ possible impact on the presidential race in Florida:

“He doesn’t have any regional appeal that I can see out here,” said James Witt, professor of politics at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. “They see the guy as a rich trial lawyer. It doesn’t resonate that he’s a Southerner.

“This is the most liberal ticket that I can remember,” Witt said of Kerry and Edwards. “If Republicans can play that up, they’ve got a good thing going for them. Neither one of them reflects the mainstream of America.”

That observation struck us as suspiciously in tune with Republican talking points on Edwards. And sure enough, Google News led us to this Philadelphia Inquirer story which appeared last month, identifing Witt as “a retired government professor and Republican activist in Pensacola.”

(On that occasion, Witt was quoted as saying: “The Democrats have to get the message across that the Bush people are not getting the job done in Iraq and that their candidate can. They don’t have anything else to sell in Florida.”)

Google also pointed us to an Associated Press piece, in which the omnipresent Witt is quoted thusly, regarding the state of Florida: “I see President Bush taking it. What issues are against the president? Unemployment is down. The economy is good. The war, at least in this part of the state, is a strong suit for the president. And Kerry just doesn’t seem to be taking this thing.”

This time, Witt was identified as a “political science professor at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Fla., heart of the conservative Panhandle,” — though again, not as a Republican shill.

We’re not surprised that a Republican activist would call Kerry and Edwards “out of the mainstream” and would predict a Bush victory in Florida. We are surprised, however, that so many reporters would fall for this pitchman in expert’s clothing.

On second thought, maybe we’re not.

Zachary Roth

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.