By Ben Kamisar - 05-26-17 00:36 AM EDT
Republican Greg Gianforte is projected to win the Thursday special election for Montana's lone House seat despite a shocking altercation with a reporter on Wednesday that led to an assault charge against the future congressman.
News outlets crowned Gianforte the apparent winner at about 12:30 a.m. Easter Time with about 50 percent of the vote. Democrat Rob Quist had 44 percent at the time of the call, according to the Montana secretary of State's website.
Gianforte's victory comes hours after a physical altercation with The Guardian's Ben Jacobs led to the local sheriff filing a misdemeanor assault charge against him. His campaign initially claimed that the reporter "aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face," grabbing the candidate's wrist and pushing him to the ground.
But a Fox News reporter who witnessed the altercation said that Gianforte "grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him to the ground," adding that Jacobs did not "show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte" before he grabbed the reporter's neck.
Gianforte is scheduled to appear in county court sometime before June 7-the charge carries a maximum fine of $500 or a prison term of no more than six months.
But even while the news blanketed the news and prompted three major Montana papers to pull their endorsement of Gianforte, the Republican was likely buoyed by how many voters sent in their ballots early, making their choice before the altercation.
The victory will calm Republicans who had grown restless with the rapidly tightening race in what had been a safe Republican seat for years. And it deals a blow to Democrats who had hoped to frame a victory as a rebuke of President Trump that would give them a shot of momentum ahead of the 2018 midterms.