In April, he hinted. In May, he leaned. In June, he intended to, probably, and started looking for staff.

But yesterday, Rep. Joe Sestak's teasing pushed the online media over the edge.

An early-morning comment that he "will run" against newly minted Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter flew across political blogs and social networking sites and was declared his "official" announcement.

Except Sestak, who just started a 67-county "listening" tour in Pennsylvania, never meant to announce anything yesterday.

"There's nothing that's changed," he said between meetings with Democratic leaders and editorial boards in Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties. "The whole quote wasn't in there."

The quote heard 'round Twitter came from an interview with reporter Steve McConnell of the Wayne Independent in northeastern Pennsylvania. McConnell asked why Sestak was traveling the state. Was it, according to an audio clip McConnell provided The Inquirer, in pursuit of "higher political ambitions"?

"It might be," Sestak said. "I wanted to, uh, I am going to get into the race against Arlen Specter. The Democratic, in the Democratic race for senator."

Sounded like a declaration.

And although Sestak repeated his plan to officially announce in about a month, McConnell, 26, said Sestak didn't include the usual caveat that he is still conferring with his family on whether to run.

"I asked him straight off the cuff. I taped it, too," said McConnell, adding, "I listened to it about four times just to make sure."

McConnell posted the meat of the quote on his paper's Web site at 9:46 a.m.

"I knew I had something, so that's why I just rushed to get it out there," he said.

By noon, political Web sites had gobbled the delicious morsel of certainty and passed it on.

"Sestak pulls the trigger," The Politico reported.

"It's official: Sestak v. Specter," read a headline in the Washington Independent.

Sestak supporters on Twitter cheered him on: Finally the race was started!

Only it hadn't, a Sestak aide insisted.

"Nothing has changed in the last four hours," spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said. "There has been no announcement."

The speculation has likely helped the two-term representative, whose name recognition is nowhere near that of Specter, a 29-year veteran of the Senate who left the Republican Party this spring.

"Every time he almost announces, he gets a plethora of coverage," said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

"There's a shrewdness in all of this milking the press."

Besides, the campaign has already started, regardless of how "official" it is. Sestak has mailed out fund-raising letters. Once he said only "an act of God" would keep him out of the race. And he's using the next three weeks to introduce himself to statewide Democratic leaders and reporters.

Yesterday, Sestak explained himself by comparing the Senate campaign to his taking command of the aircraft carrier George Washington's 30-ship battle group in 2002. He met the captains and crews of the ships before assuming his post.

"Maybe it's not the template other politicians do," he said. "Before you jump in, before you take over, so to to speak, that you at least have the courtesy of introducing yourself."

No amount of cajoling from this reporter yesterday could persuade Sestak to officially leap.

But, wink, he said, "Unless something unexpected happens, I am going to get in this race."

Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.