Gianforte Wins Special Election Despite Assault Charge

Map of Montana’s at-large congressional district, won by Greg Gianforte in Thursday’s special election. (Public domain photo by National Atlas of the United States)

On Thursday, Republican Greg Gianforte won the congressional special election in Montana less than 24 hours after being charged with assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.

In the midst of interviewing Gianforte regarding his reaction to the newly released CBO score on the House-passed health care bill, Jacobs was allegedly thrown to the ground by the now representative-elect.

According to Fox News witnesses and Jacobs’ audio recording, Gianforte broke Jacob’s glasses, “body slammed” him and shouted, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! Get the hell out of here.”

The CBO score in question predicts 23 million more people uninsured in the next decade. Previously, Gianforte stated he would neither support nor oppose the Republican health care bill until the CBO score was released.

Wednesday night, after the incident, the Gianforte campaign released a statement blaming the violence on “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.”

However, Fox News witnesses disputed the campaign’s allegations and many Montana newspapers then revoked their endorsements while House Speaker Paul Ryan encouraged Gianforte to apologize.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault and has a court hearing scheduled for June 7.  

As a result of his victory Thursday, Gianforte apologized publicly saying “When you make a mistake you have to own up to it, that’s the Montana way.”

The reporter’s assault follows a pattern of hostility towards the press, although never previously violent, it has been proven successful for Republican candidates, including for President Trump.

It is unlikely that Gianforte will be punished by Republicans in Congress as most are following Paul Ryan’s example, who stated Thursday that he is “going to let the people of Montana decide who they want to represent them.”

The special election, set to replace Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke who was appointed by Trump as Secretary of the Interior, is one of the special elections Democrats have been watching closely for signs of energy from the Democratic base.

The Democratic contender, Rob Quist, a folk singer from the 1970s Mission Mountain Wood Band, was not predicted to win. Trump won Montana by 21 points in 2016 and this house seat has been represented by a Republican for last two decades.

Despite Gianforte’s large starting margin, after the altercation, he only led by single digits. According to Edison Research, Gianforte won 50.6 percent of the vote, compared to Quist who had 43.6 percent.

Many pundits have declared Gianforte’s win a bad omen for Democrats, arguing that if the party is unable to win against a candidate who assaulted a reporter, the Democratic wave in 2018 is unlikely to come to fruition.

As many as 70 percent of the votes in Montana were cast early by mail before the assault occurred. Montana, as a deeply red state, was likely a poor test case for Democratic popularity.

However, some have argued that Quist’s single digit loss may be an indicator that the Democratic base is retaining its enthusiasm and converting it into votes in even the most Republican territories.

Since November, Democrats have focused on special elections in Kansas, Louisiana, and now Montana with none leading to a victory.

It is now likely that attention will switch back to Georgia’s 6th district, where the most expensive House race in U.S. history between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel is in full swing.

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