Note to future Montana politicians: Physically assaulting members of the press will, as it turns out, not actually hurt your chances of winning an election.
That’s one take-away from the special election held Thursday to fill the Big Sky State’s vacant seat in the House of Representatives. Despite a last minute national scandal that erupted after the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, was cited by local authorities for attacking a reporter for The Guardian, Gianforte handily defeated Democratic opponent, Rob Quist.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Gianforte was declared winner with 50.2 percent of the vote to Quist’s 434,1 percent, according to The New York Times. Libertarian candidate Mark Wicks claimed 5.7 percent.
The altercation between Gianforte and reporter Ben Jacobs occurred Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before polls opened, at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana.
According to Jacobs, he was attacked — “bodyslammed” as he described it — by Gianforte after asking a question about the Republicans’ healthcare plan, while a TV interview with a Fox affiliate was being set up. Jacobs was later taken to an ambulance, where he took a photo of his glasses, which he said were broken during the fight.
The Gianforte campaign confirmed that a physical confrontation took place, but disputed Jacobs’ version of events. In a statement the campaign claimed that the incident was the result of aggressive and violent behavior by Jacobs, leaving Gianforte no choice but to defend himself physically.
However, audio of the incident, part of which Jacobs released online, contradicted Gianforte’s account. And other reporters on the scene, including BuzzFeed news reporter Alexis Levinson and Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, largely backed up Jacobs’ version of events. Both reporters said Jacobs was not behaving in a violent manner, and Acuna in particular described Gianforte grabbing Jacobs by the neck and throwing him to the ground — an act known as a “chokeslam” in pro wrestling parlance.
Gianforte was cited by local law enforcement for misdemeanor assault. “Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault,” the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Gianforte subsequently lost the endorsements of every major newspaper in Montana, and was widely condemned across the country. Even GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called for him to apologize (though Ryan did not otherwise pull his support for a Gianforte victory). But the uproar ultimately didn’t lead to a loss. The technology executive held a commanding lead over Quist in the heavily Republican state throughout the campaign, and early voting had been taking place since May 1.
Gianforte and Quist were vying to take the seat formerly held by Republican Ryan Zinke, who left Congress after he was appointed Interior Secretary by Donald Trump. Montana has one seat in the House.
Gianforte apologized for attacking Jacobs in his victory speech.