Republican Greg Gianforte won the special election for Montana’s lone congressional seat on Thursday despite an election eve misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly body-slamming a reporter.
Gianforte had been silent in the wake of the allegations, with his campaign only releasing a statement claiming that The Guardian‘s Ben Jacobs had been the aggressor. But speaking at his victory party in Bozeman shortly after the race was called, Gianforte admitted he was in the wrong and offered an apology to Jacobs.
“[Wednesday] night I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back, and I’m not proud of what happened,” Gianforte said. “I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I’m sorry.
“I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I’m sorry Mr. Ben Jacobs,” the congressman-elect continued. “That’s not the person I am, and that’s not the way I’ll lead in this state.”
Gianforte has defeated Democrat Rob Quist to win the seat formerly held by Ryan Zinke, who President Trump tapped earlier this year to be his Interior Secretary. According to The Associated Press, with 98 percent of the vote in, Gianforte was winning 50 percent to Quist’s 44 percent. Libertarian candidate Mark Wicks was taking 6 percent.
The race was roiled in the final hours after Gianforte allegedly assaulted Jacobs after the reporter asked him about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the GOP health bill, the American Health Care Act.
According to audio from Jacobs, after he pressed Gianforte for his reaction to the CBO score, the would-be congressman then body-slammed him to the ground, breaking his glasses and injuring his elbow. Three Fox News reporters who were in the room preparing for an interview with Gianforte also witnessed the incident, and confirmed that Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground … then began punching the reporter.”
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin — who had donated $250 to Gianforte’s campaign — announced he was charging the GOP nominee with misdemeanor assault. Gianforte must now appear in court by June 7. If convicted, he faces a possible maximum fine of $500 or up to six months in jail.
Even before the tumultuous final hours, some began to see the contest as a bellwether on health care and the AHCA. Republicans conceded well before the last 36 hours that the race had tightened to an uncomfortable degree. Outside groups poured about $5.6 million into the contest, while Democratic groups only jumped in with about $1 million to aid Quist.