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Greg Vital

State Senate Republican candidate Greg Vital apologized Wednesday for "misleading" people into thinking he's a college graduate, but that didn't stop his rivals from questioning his credibility on everything else.

"There's been too many opportunities for him to correct this mistake in the past," said Todd Gardenhire, Vital's opponent in Tennessee's 10th Senate District Republican primary. "The issue is that, one way or another, my opponent misled everybody until he was pinned down."

The Times Free Press on Wednesday documented several occasions when Vital, a developer and the CEO of a chain of assisted-living facilities, spoke inaccurately about his time as a student at Southern Adventist University and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The most public example occurred at a May 31 candidate forum where Vital said he "finished up" college in 1979 and "graduated with $900 on my student loan." Officials at both universities later confirmed Vital was enrolled but never graduated.

"I'm sorry for misleading," Vital said Wednesday. "It's a mistake. I made a mistake, and I apologize to the folks I may have misled. I'm done with it."

But Gardenhire and the Democrats in the race remain baffled by a website for one of Vital's sites, Bragg Point Homes, that said he "holds an undergraduate degree in business administration from Southern Adventist University."

On the Internet for at least three years, the Bragg Point website was removed late Tuesday.

"I'm not quite sure he's being completely honest with us," Democrat Andraé McGary said, "This particular behavior is concerning."

Fellow Democrat Quenston Coleman said, "A senator must be trustworthy, have integrity and documented proof of any claimed accomplishments."

While he didn't address a question on why the Bragg Point website is down, Vital stressed that he's a man of integrity, noting that his campaign website says he merely "attended" Southern and UTC. He also said he "told the truth" in a June 10 story in the Cleveland Daily Banner that mentioned his college years. And for the second time in as many days, Vital characterized his May 31 remarks as "a Freudian slip."

"I've gotten dozens of emails and phone calls today from people who have been faced with the same problem, who have suffered," Vital said. "They, too, have made mistakes like this and never got caught. They told me to hang in there."

But his competitors said the damage is done.

"Bottom line," Democrat David Testerman said, "it's not a good thing for a person to do."