Republican state Senate candidate Greg Vital categorically denied sending voters incomplete and potentially damaging information about his opponent two days after saying he had "no idea" whether his campaign was responsible.
"We are setting the record straight on these issues to end this ridiculous discussion here and now," Vital spokesman Rob Alderman said in a news release. "Neither Greg nor anyone associated with this campaign had anything to do with the mailing of those public documents."
But Gardenhire, Vital's foe in Tennessee's 10th District GOP primary, doubted his opponent's sincerity and criticized Vital for "[refusing] to denounce those involved in this political scheme."
"Greg Vital's campaign spokesperson should have called for an end to the gutter politics that denigrate the political process," Gardenhire said in a written rebuttal. "He should have asked for anyone who is behind the anonymous cowardly effort to malign my reputation to cease and desist so that we may focus on issues."
Sent without a return address to an unknown number of voters in the 10th District, the mailer included one document -- a copy of a June 25, 1997, request for a protective order written by Gardenhire's ex-wife, Kathy Gardenhire.
The mailer did not include that, nine days later, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern dismissed the petition against Todd Gardenhire at the request of Kathy Gardenhire. It also omitted the fact the Gardenhires remained married another decade until "irreconcilable differences" led to a divorce that was finalized in 2008.
Gardenhire blamed Vital for the mailer Tuesday at a local Republican women's club luncheon where both men were guest speakers. In a tense back-and-forth, Gardenhire demanded an explanation from his opponent, calling him "Pinocchio" and accusing him of spreading misleading information.
At first, Vital declined to acknowledge the mailer or answer questions about it. Later he said, "I have no idea" when asked directly whether he or his campaign was responsible.
Neither man mentioned the mailer during a joint appearance at the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors meeting early Thursday, but later in the day, Vital breathed new life into the dispute with an emailed statement titled, "Vital Campaign to Gardenhire: You're the One Talking about the Protection Order, Not Us."
Asked why Vital broached the mailer in a statement that called for a return to "issues that matter most to Bradley and Hamilton County taxpayers," Alderman said: "The Gardenhire campaign has said this was the work of the Vital campaign. We wanted to make sure to say, 'This isn't that. We're not out sending these kind of letters.'"
Gardenhire said voters should doubt Vital's truthfulness, pointing to a Chattanooga Times Free Press report that documented occasions in which Vital or Vital's websites said he was a college graduate despite his never graduating.
"We can't take Greg VItal at his word because that's proven to be suspect," Gardenhire said in his statement.
Vital did not return multiple phone calls and text messages after his staff issued his statement Thursday, but at the Realtors' meeting, he discussed the college graduation controversy in the context of running for office.
"Every word you say becomes micromanaged," he said. "Everything you've ever done that's important in life. But none of us are perfect, folks. It's tough."
Democrats in the 10th District race are Quenston Coleman, Andraé McGary and David Testerman. Primaries are Aug. 2.