Republican Greg Gianforte on Thursday night won the special election to fill the lone U.S. House seat representing Montana, just one night after he was charged with misdemeanor assault.
With most precincts reporting results, Gianforte was leading Democrat Rob Quist by six points, 50-44, as of early Friday morning, though several precincts had yet to file results in the race. Several news outlets called the race by early Friday morning, including the Associated Press and CNN.
Gianforte pulled off a victory despite his alleged assault of a reporter Wednesday night as his campaign headquarters. Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, said that Gianforte bodyslammed him after he attempted to asked the candidate a question about the House Republican health care bill. A Fox News reporter who was in the room supported Jacobs’ account of the incident, saying that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck, pushed him to the ground, and punched him.
Initially, Gianforte did not issue an apology but instead claimed that Jacobs grabbed him by the wrist before the two fell to the ground, an account that was not in line with the Fox News reporter’s description of the incident. A statement from the campaignWednesday night lamented “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.”
Yet during his victory speech on Thursday night after the polls in Montana had closed, Gianforte issued an apology for the incident.
“Last night I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back. And I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I’m sorry,” he told supporters. “I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way, and for that, I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.”
“That’s not the person I am, and it’s not the way I’ll lead in this state,” Gianforte continued. “You deserve a congressman who stays out of the limelight and just gets the job done. I promise to work hard to protect our precious way of life.”
Gianforte did not describe the incident or make an attempt to explicitly correct the campaign’s Wednesday night description of the alleged assault.
He did mention President Donald Trump in his victory speech, promising to work with the President.
“Montana sent a strong message tonight that we want a congressman who will work with President Trump to make America and Montana great again,” he said, according to the New York Times.
Gianforte had been expected to win the race, but the special election was closely watched given its proximity to the 2016 election. Democrats have been looking to win back a House seat after Republicans won the White House and maintained both chambers of Congress in November. The race saw a flood of spending, with outside groups putting up about $6 million, according to a Roll Call analysis.