Politics: Republican Greg Gianforte projected to win House seat day after being charged with assaulting a reporter
Voters in Montana are set to decide who they will send to the US House of Representatives.
Montana Republican Greg Gianforte was projected to win the state's seat in the US House of Representatives on Thursday night, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets. You can watch a live tally of the results below, via Decision Desk HQ, which also projected Gianforte as the winner:
In his victory speech, Gianforte offered an apology to the reporter he was accused of assaulting the day before. Scattered cheers could be heard in the crowd as Gianforte motioned for them not to applaud.
"I should not have responded the way I did. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I am sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs," Gianforte said, referring to The Guardian reporter who said Gianforte "body-slammed" him during a campaign event the day before.
Four candidates were vying for Montana's only House seat, but two candidates were seen as the main contenders — the Republican Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist. Gianforte will take the seat previously held by Ryan Zinke, who became President Donald Trump's interior secretary in March.
Gianforte, a multimillionaire tech entrepreneur who was backed by some Republican Party heavyweights in the final weeks of the race, kept a low profile on Thursday, according to local news outlets. Fewer than 24 hours earlier, the Republican candidate was charged with misdemeanor assault after the incident with the reporter.
The ordeal seemed to have little effect on election night in Montana, as Gianforte gained a significant early lead over Quist. With 95% of precincts reporting, Gianforte had more than 50% of the vote compared to Quist, who sat at nearly 44%, according to results from Decision Desk HQ.
Still, the fallout from the "body-slam" incident was significant in the hours that followed. Three of Montana's biggest newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte and Democratic lawmakers publicly scolded the GOP's candidate. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, called the candidate's altercation with a reporter "unsettling on many levels."
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Gianforte to apologize, saying, "I do not think this is acceptable behavior, but the choice will be made by the people of Montana." The chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Steve Stivers, said in a statement that "this was totally out of character, but we all make mistakes."
Trent Franks, the Republican representative from Arizona's 8th District, rejected Gianforte's actions, but also blamed liberals.
"The left has precipitated this tense, confrontational, approach throughout the country in recent months," Franks said.
Quist is a local bluegrass musician who has pitched himself as a party outsider. Neither Quist nor Gianforte have previous experience holding public office. Gianforte unsuccessfully ran for governor of Montana in 2016.
Trump won the state by 21 points in November. Observers consider the Montana special election and others around the country as a barometer of political sentiment and a potential foreshadowing of the 2018 midterms.