Republican state Senate candidate Greg Vital today refuted a Chattanooga Free Press editorial that said he "used his personal wealth to intimidate" candidates and would-be candidates from entering the 10th District race.
"I never intimidated anyone," Vital said.
Citing an unnamed legislator, the Free Press editorial said Vital bullied his GOP primary opponent, Todd Gardenhire, and state Rep. Vince Dean, a Republican who represents East Ridge and briefly considered a 10th District Senate bid.
"I've got more money than God, so don't bother running," was how the editorial quoted one person's memory of Vital's alleged remark.
But in an interview today, about 24 hours before Thursday's elections, Vital denied ever making such a statement. Instead, Vital said, he told Dean and Gardenhire he was running and that each man "was welcome to run if he wanted to."
Dean declined to comment Wednesday on any conversation with Vital.
"I look forward to working with whoever wins the race," he said. "Let the voters decide."
But Gardenhire today challenged Vital's denial of the statement, and another District 10 hopeful, Democrat Andrae McGary, added a similar allegation. Another Democrat in the race, David Testerman, said Vital never "directly or indirectly" threatened him in any way.
Gardenhire said Vital called him at work in March and "acted so much like a bully it was unbelievable."
"He told me my supporters and I might as well not waste our money on a losing cause," Gardenhire said. "I said, 'Greg, you've got to do what you've got to do, and I've got to do what I've got to do.' That's when he came at me with, 'I've got more money than God and I'm going to spend it all.'"
Vital, a developer who has loaned $125,000 to his own campaign, vigorously denied uttering that particular line but acknowledged the two argued over fundraising.
"There was a discussion about money in general," he said. "Everybody said, 'I can raise more money than you.' I said, 'Fine, I'll raise more money than you.' Period, that's it."
McGary said Vital asked him in the spring, "What do we have to do to get you on the winning team?"
"It just puzzled me because I didn't want to think he was trying to bribe me out of the race," McGary said. "But the language itself was such that, really, there's no other meaning to take from it."
Vital said he spoke with McGary early in the race, but he disputed McGary's account.
"Absolutely not," Vital said when asked if he tried to bribe McGary.
Vital described the charges as election-eve "lies."
"I don't know where McGary's coming from," he said. "He's a Democrat, and I'm not involved with [the Democratic primary] race."
Quenston Coleman is the other Democrat in the 10th District primary.