I t was definitely a surprise back in mid-January, when six-term U.S. Congressman Todd Platts, R-19th, announced he wasn't running for re-election.
Not as much of a surprise was his decision not to endorse any of the seven Republican candidates who lined up in the weeks after his announcement to run for his seat in Congress.
It just seemed like something Platts would do out of a sense of fair play.
Let the seven Republicans fight it out, and allow voters to make their own choice in the primary election. And do all of that without the incumbent taking sides.
I liked it.
None of the candidates had an advantage over the others. They all started from scratch. The Republican Party wasn't endorsing a candidate to replace Platts. And Platts wasn't endorsing a candidate, either. Let the voters decide for themselves.
And the race started out that way.
Until, that is, the end of March when Platts spoke before the Pennsylvania Press Club with Republican candidate Scott Perry in the audience.
Asked if he would endorse anyone, Platts declined. But then he listed four of the candidates he thought were more qualified than the others. They were: Mark Swomley, Sean Summers, Kevin Downs and Perry.
No mention was made at all of Republican candidates Chris Reilly, Eric Martin and Ted Waga.
That spoke volumes.
Especially when Platts went on to say a little bit about each of the candidates he considered most qualified and a whole lot about Perry.
"And Scott is a great example of the quality of the candidates that are out there. And I want the voters to choose," Platts said. "But you know, Scott's a great example of that quality -- a local servant for many years. ... Five years in the statehouse. About 32 years as a soldier in the ... United States Army, Pennsylvania National Guard. And how many missions did you do in Iraq?" he asked Perry.
Platts, of course, said his comments about Perry were only because Perry was sitting in the audience.
I accepted that explanation at face value. But it smelled like an endorsement to me.
That's because I know a little bit about how politics work. And here's what I think:
From the beginning, Platts said he'd refuse to endorse a candidate and he held to that for about 21/2 months. By then, candidates -- some of them, at least -- were doing their own phone surveys and polls of registered Republican voters.
And they no doubt learned the same thing The York Dispatch discovered by its poll, done by the Polk-Lepson Research Group. Two weeks before the primary election Reilly and Perry were neck-and-neck. In fact, Reilly had a slight lead.
But here's the clincher -- at the time, 56.5 percent of registered Republicans said they were still undecided.
Platts obviously didn't think Reilly was qualified to be a congressman.
But Reilly was at the top of the pack.
If ever there was a time for the incumbent congressman to get involved, this was clearly it. Especially if he didn't want Reilly to win.
But Platts said he wouldn't endorse anyone.
He created a list of "most qualified candidates," of which Perry was one, but Reilly was not.
There was a message there if voters chose to recognize it.
And then, the day before the election -- I received mine in the mail on Monday, April 23, others received theirs the Saturday before -- there was the 8-by-10, four-color campaign flier from Perry in the mail.
True, Perry's campaign paid for it. And one side of the mailer was all about Perry -- "Scott Perry. Conservative for Congress." Plus all the reasons you should vote for him.
Then flip it over and what do you see? A 5-by-7 picture of Todd Platts under the headline: "Here is what Todd Platts says about Scott Perry." And then this quote: "Scott is a great example of the quality of candidate that I want voters to choose."
It was nearly word for word what Platts said about Perry three weeks earlier at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, when he announced his "most qualified candidates."
OK, I might have been born yesterday, but I wasn't born in the dark yesterday.
Reilly and Perry were running neck-and-neck in the polls. Fifty-six percent of Republican voters hadn't made up their minds yet. Those were votes Perry needed to mine like gold.
I guess it's true the other candidates could have done the same thing, except that none of them had published quotes about themselves from the incumbent they could have used on a mailer. For darned sure, Reilly didn't.
Perry did. And he used it.
But you can't tell me Platts didn't know in advance that he and his words were going to be so prominently displayed on Perry's campaign literature, the day before the election, no less. If he had wanted to, Platts could have squashed it like a bug.
In the end, Perry won by almost 23,000 votes. Perry received about 53 percent of the votes; Reilly 19 percent. Clearly, Perry won the hearts of the undecideds.
I am not singing the blues for Chris Reilly. I didn't vote for Reilly or Perry. That said, I'm perfectly satisfied that Perry won.
But I'm sorry Platts didn't stick to his promise: He said he wouldn't highlight one candidate for endorsement because an endorsement from the incumbent gives an unfair advantage.
Platts will say he kept his word.
But if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck, it's a duck. Of that much, I'm certain.
I think I know an endorsement when I see one.
I have a hunch Scott Perry does, as well.