published Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Chattanooga developer Greg Vital concedes primary


by Chris Carroll

Chattanooga developer Greg Vital conceded Tennessee's 10th State Senate District GOP primary to Todd Gardenhire on Tuesday, declining to request a recount after statewide Republicans showed little to no interest in disputing a 39-vote margin.

"It looked pretty hopeless to me, being 40 votes behind," said Vital supporter, Harrison resident and former state Rep. Bobby Wood. "Several other primaries were even tighter than that."

Tennessee primary elections are controlled by the state parties. Wood belongs to the Tennessee Republican Party's State Executive Committee, a 66-member body whose approval Vital needed if he wanted a recount.

"I didn't see it happening," Wood said.

Five days after Thursday's election, the state's final tally showed Gardenhire with 8,021 votes to Vital's 7,982. On Nov. 6, financial consultant Gardenhire will face Democrat and Chattanooga City Councilman AndraƩ McGary in the general election for District 10, which includes parts of Bradley and Hamilton counties.

Other Republican executive committee members sensed a Gardenhire victory over the weekend, citing a pall over the Vital campaign.

"Greg knows me well and has my cellphone number," committee member and Lookout Mountain resident Oscar Brock said. "If he was thinking about a recount, he would have felt very comfortable calling me. Neither him nor any of his supporters did that."

Brock said it's likely Vital assumed the Tennessee Republican Party wasn't interested in prolonging an already bitter primary.

Vital did not respond to requests for comment, but a campaign spokesman issued a statement early Tuesday.

"The ballots are in and hopefully all the votes have been counted accurately," Vital said, according to the statement. "There is no need for a recount."

State party officials never took a clear position on a potential recount request. Tennessee GOP Executive Director Adam Nickas said Republican leaders did nothing to dissuade Vital, but they hoped for a quick resolution "so we can turn our focus" to Democrats in November.

"The clock's ticking," Nickas said.

That attitude, paired with two Tennessee House GOP primaries with smaller margins -- five votes and 11 votes -- led some executive committee members to believe Vital wasn't high on the priority list.

"If there was no evidence of impropriety," Bradley County resident and executive committee member Dan Howell said, "I doubt the State Executive Committee would have approved a recount."

But Vital may have had enough to raise questions. Gardenhire's 15-vote election day lead over Vital grew to 40 a day later after Hamilton County Election Commission officials said a voting machine error caused them to miss 25 Gardenhire votes in the Eastdale precinct. A few provisional ballots whittled Gardenhire's lead down to 39 on Tuesday.

Nathan Jones, a GOP state executive committee member from Davidson County, said he would have supported a recount.

"I won't say that we should have had a recount, but I would say if Vital came to me with that request, being as close as 40 votes, I would have said 'yes,'" Jones said. "You err on the side of accuracy."

Hamilton County Election Commission Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said a District 10 recount in Hamilton County alone would have cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

On Saturday, Nickas said Vital would have had to pay for a recount.

Gardenhire said Vital's exit allows him to focus on November.

"McGary and I are diametrically opposed on some of the issues, so it'll be a philosophical race -- a good race," he said.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.

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