It was brief flash in the pan, but it sure burned hot while it lasted.
The first harsh, loud words of the governor's race came from the mouth of Democrat Joe Hoeffel today after he figured out that rival Dan Onorato was behind a Commonwealth Court challenge to Hoeffel's right to be on the May 18 primary ballot for governor.
The action challenged the legality of the ballot petitions Hoeffel had submitted. Filed on behalf of several ordinary citizens, it contended that Hoeffel hadn't met the requirement to obtain 2,000 signatures, including at least 100 each from 10 counties.
Hoeffel, a Montgomery County commissioner, called it "a cowardly act." He said Onorato was "a bully." He said Onorato had "turned desperate" because he wasn't making any progress in his campaign.
Onorato kept out of sight. His press staff didn't return a reporter's calls. The lawyer who filed the case, a close Onorato ally, wouldn't take calls, either.
Then, about mid-afternoon, the court challenge suddenly went away. It was withdrawn from the appellate courthouse in Pittsburgh, where Onorato is the Allegheny County executive.
Because it was filed in the name of ordinary folks -- and because he never actually received a copy of the suit -- Hoeffel was only making the assumption that the action came from the Onorato camp. Onorato let the issue drag on for most of the day without disputing that.
Finally, a little before 3:30 p.m., Onorato press spokesman Brian Herman put out a statement on Onorato's behalf, taking note that ballot-access challenges have become a typical part of political campaigns if it appears one candidate can push another out of contention.
The Onorato statement said: "Every competent campaign checks their opponents' petitions and challenges any questionable ones to defend itself. ... we are pleased that the challenge has been withdrawn and that the candidate field hasn't changed."
Hoeffel was pleased at the withdrawal, but still fuming.
"I guess he wasn't willing to be challenged on his challenge," he said.