NASHVILLE - Fueled by $57,000 in personal loans to his campaign, Todd Gardenhire matched rival Greg Vital dollar for dollar in spending on the Republican Senate District 10 primary from July 1-26, state records show.
Meanwhile, Vital's pre-primary filing with the state Registry of Election Finance shows a new player joining his campaign.
Vital had a tough July, grappling with two controversies. On July 19, the Vital campaign paid $4,297 to Election Impact Group, a Mississippi-based professional political consulting firm with extensive Republican primary experience. The firm was started by Howie Morgan, who worked in Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn's first campaign in 2002.
Registry filings for the July 1-26 period also show the Gardenhire campaign kicked into high gear as the Aug. 2 primary neared. It spent $70,879, including nearly $39,000 on television, cable and radio advertising.
That included $28,600 to run ads on all four major network affiliates in Chattanooga.
Early voting began July 13 and goes through today.
Vital, who wielded huge money and spending advantages from March through June, reported spending $70,618 in July, his pre-primary filings show.
Of that, $21,583 went to New Jersey-based Mountaintop Media for advertising. He also spent $1,327 for radio, a venue he has previously spent large sums on.
Gardenhire said Friday night that he has spent $40,000 on television ads. That's compared to more than $70,000 by Vital.
Vital spokesman Rob Alderman said Friday the health care entrepreneur is running a "couple" of positive television spots.
He said the campaign opted to go for television because voters "are wanting know the message and they're wanting to know who Greg Vital is and what Greg Vital stands for. And we wanted to use all the media we could to let them know."
Gardenhire, a financial consultant who has labored in a number of campaigns over more than three decades, said he thinks his decision to self-fund and his leap onto television were a "big surprise" to Vital and others.
"He found out by accident I had the TV buy," Gardenhire said.
The common refrain all along, Gardenhire said, was that Vital "has got a lot of money. He can outspend you. Well ... this isn't my first rodeo."
With the election now "in the last inning," Gardenhire said Vital's ability to totally dominate the air wars has diminished.
"I've been fortunate enough to self-fund this last part," said Gardenhire, who had loaned his campaign $20,000 in the second quarter. Vital put in $125,000 of his own money during the first and second quarters. He reported no additional loans this reporting period.
Gardenhire said his television spots are positive, too.
"You haven't seen any negative stuff in my campaign, so far," he said, laughing, adding he does have a "comparison piece" in the offing. "It's not negative. It just points out some pure, solid facts. Nothing personal."
Asked why Vital brought on the Election Impact Group, Alderman said the campaign was "just trying to get some extra perspective, getting some extra help as things are ramping up.
"They have a long history of working Republican primary campaigns, and they've got a lot of expertise in that particular area," Alderman said.
Gardenhire had his own take on the move.
"They guys [consultants] in Cleveland were botching it," he said. "That's when they brought these guys in. ... They finally brought in the pros and moved the amateurs aside."
Gardenhire said he believes it won't be enough for Vital.
In recent weeks, Vital has tried to recover after saying he had graduated from college when he had not. He called that a "Freudian slip."
Recently, an anonymously mailed copy of a 15-year-old protective order sought by Gardenhire's then-wife circulated. Gardenhire on July 17 accused Vital of being behind it and not telling "the rest of the story" -- that a judge dismissed the matter nine days later.
Vital said at the time he had "no idea" whether his campaign had been involved. Two days later he denied he or his campaign had been involved. That was the same day the campaign reported the expenditure for the Election Impact Group.
In his pre-primary reports, Vital reported $12,525 in contributions, bringing his total contributions in the campaign to $144,550. There was the $125,000 in previous loans he made. He has spent $246,657 and had a $22,641 cash balance.
Gardenhire raised $7,380, bringing total contributions to $31,000. His loans now total $77,000. He has spent $96,024 and had $10,993 in cash on hand.
Senate Democratic candidate David Testerman, a Hamilton County school board member, reported $1,000 in contributions, $500 each from the Hamilton County Political Action Committee for Education (teachers) and the Tennessee Education Association's PAC.
He had a $1,375.62 cash balance.
No reports were available on the Registry website for 10th District Democrats Andraé McGary or Quenston Coleman.