Montana Republican Wins U.S. House Seat After Assault Charge

  • Gianforte charged with misdemeanor assault on reporter
  • Race had been seen as a referendum on Trump’s performance

Greg Gianforte.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A Republican won a special election Thursday for a U.S. House seat in Montana, even after being charged with assaulting a reporter the day before polls opened, in a race seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump.

“Great win in Montana,” Trump told reporters in Italy, where he’s attending a Group of Seven summit, after tech millionaire Greg Gianforte won the statewide contest for Montana’s only House seat over Democrat Rob Quist, a political novice and musician.

Gianforte had 50.4 percent of the vote to Quist’s 43.9 percent, according to the Associated Press, with 98 percent of precincts reporting. The seat had been held by Ryan Zinke, whom Trump appointed as interior secretary.

Gianforte’s victory was a setback for Democrats who hoped to capitalize on Trump’s low approval ratings, unpopular Republican health-care legislation, and the misdemeanor assault charge.

While the outcome saves Republicans from an embarrassing loss that would have been viewed as a rebuke of Trump, Gianforte created new problems for the party. He was charged after witnesses said the Republican “body-slammed” a reporter Wednesday while the reporter attempted to ask a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s new score of the House Republican health bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin denounced the attack and called on Gianforte, 56, to apologize.

“There’s never a time a physical altercation should occur with the press, or just between human beings,” Ryan told reporters Thursday in Washington.

Gianforte did apologize after being declared the winner, according to AP. Ryan spokesman Zack Roday in a statement praised the winner as an “outsider” who “will be a valuable voice in the House Republican Conference.”

Democrats tied the incident to Trump’s anti-media rhetoric. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Gianforte was a "wannabe Trump," citing the president’s occasionally harsh language and behavior. “Donald Trump’s his model,” she said.

Gianforte ran for governor of Montana in 2016, losing to incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock by 4 percentage points while Trump won the state by more than 20 percentage points. During his run for the House seat, Gianforte tied himself to Trump, promising to help “drain the swamp” and campaigning with Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr.

Gianforte also campaigned with Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines, who tweeted Thursday that he does “not condone violence in any way” and that Gianforte “needs to apologize.”

The Montana race focused on Quist’s history of financial problems and Gianforte’s stance on House Republicans’ effort to dismantle Obamacare. Gianforte said through a spokesman earlier this month that he needed more information before deciding whether he favored the GOP legislation, while on the same day praising the bill during a private conference call, according to the New York Times, which said it obtained a recording of the call.

Quist’s closing advertisements criticized Gianforte for his private support of the bill, saying the measure wouldn’t protect those with pre-existing conditions.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and MoveOn.org used the Wednesday night incident, involving reporter Ben Jacobs of the Guardian of London, in online and radio ads to spur last-minute voter registration and turnout. Montana’s major newspapers withdrew their endorsements of Gianforte on Thursday.

Gianforte received a citation to appear in court by June 7.

Despite the last-minute push, more than half of the ballots expected to be cast in the race had already been returned before the alleged assault occurred.

— With assistance by Anna Edgerton

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