When the Rev. Max Myers announced his candidacy last week for the Democratic nomination for governor of Pennsylvania, rival John Hanger dumped a load of "oppo" on his head.

Who? What?

Most Keystone State voters have not yet, it is safe to say, tuned in to the 2014 governor's race, but the competition to replace Gov. Corbett grows more heated by the day. At least a dozen have declared, said they're considering it, or have been listed as likely suspects.

Hanger, the former state environmental secretary who was the first announced candidate, felt the need to deploy negative "opposition research" to attack the second, Myers, an ordained Pentecostalist minister from Cumberland County, as a religious zealot.

That reflects both the attack culture of politics as it's practiced today - i.e., place boot on opponent's throat and keep it there - and the pressing need for candidates to begin differentiating themselves in such a crowd.

Hanger challenged Myers to a debate to "compare our ideas about personal liberty," and zapped the reverend as hostile to abortion rights and gay rights, two articles of faith these days in the Democratic Party mainstream.

His campaign also e-mailed to reporters a document from an organization called Political Research Associates that mentioned Myers' 2007-12 tenure as leader of the Global School of Supernatural Ministries in Mechanicsburg, Pa., which teaches faith-healing and prophecy. The school is part of a movement called the Apostolic Network of Global Awakening, whose tenets include a belief that abortion and homosexuality are products of "demonic entities."

All told, the attack was like Tonga bombing Fiji. Sure, the Tongans could do it, but why? The countries are neighboring archipelagoes in the South Pacific with few people and even less strategic importance.

Hanger and Myers, with all due respect to both, are among the most obscure of the Democrats on the current gubernatorial wannabe list.

"Does Pennsylvania really need a governor that misrepresents, attacks, and challenges their opponent on the day that they are declaring?" Myers asked in a statement. "I had hoped for a higher respect level."

Perhaps he is naive, or a saint.

Myers also said he supported "equal access and equal treatment under the law," skirting the question of same-sex marriage. He calls abortion the law of the land, and says a focus on social issues divides people and creates a toxic political environment. He wants to talk about poverty.

"Pennsylvanians shouldn't be concerned that I'm going to force religion on them," Myers said.

Maybe they should be concerned that Democrats will force too many candidates on them. Potential contenders for governor include U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord, of Montgomery County; as well as former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak of Delaware County, the 2010 Democratic Senate nominee who lost to Republican Pat Toomey.

And the list grows: Last week, Kathleen McGinty, Hanger's predecessor as environmental secretary and an environmental aide in the Clinton White House, established an exploratory committee and began collecting checks.

Then there's Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski; businessman and former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf, another Rendell administration alum; State Sen. Mike Stack of Northeast Philadelphia; Montgomery County Commission Chairman Josh Shapiro; and Tom Knox, the millionaire former health-insurance executive who ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007.

Throw in Republican Bruce Castor, the Montgomery County commissioner who has threatened to challenge the incumbent in his party's 2014 gubernatorial primary, and the list hits an even dozen.

All these ambitious pols might want to remember that another candidate will be on the ballot next year - a guy who won a big victory last week as the state House passed a liquor-privatization plan.

Tom Corbett.

Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718, tfitzgerald@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @tomfitzgerald. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent.