Republican wins Montana election, despite violence

Rep. Greg Gianforte starts his tenure with assault charges.

 

Republicans in Montana celebrated Thursday night after GOP candidate Greg Gianforte beat out Democrat Rob Quist in a close race for the state’s lone House of Representatives seat. Gianforte, a multimillionaire who received $5.6 million in out-of-state donations from Republican super PACs, gave his acceptance speech in Gallatin County, a county that went for Quist. Gianforte will fill the seat vacated by Republican Ryan Zinke, who was chosen to head the Department of the Interior. 

The win closed out a highly publicized race that was watched nationwide because Democratic and Republican strategists are looking at special elections as harbingers of the 2018 midterms, and because of Gianforte’s alleged assault of a reporter.

On election day in Missoula, Montana, women try to sway voters against Greg Gianoforte, with a nod to his assault on a reporter from The Guardian the day before.
Ivan Couronne/AFP/Getty Images

On May 24, on the eve of the election, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked Gianforte for his thoughts on the Republican healthcare bill, which had just received a score from the Congressional Budget Office. After declining to answer, Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground” and began punching him, according to three Fox News reporters who were in the room. Gianforte yelled that he was “sick and tired of you guys,” asked him if he was with the Guardian, and told him to “get the hell out of here.” Gallatin County Sheriff’s office filed misdemeanor assault charges later that night. In a press release, the Gianforte campaign gave a different account of the events; Gianforte later apologized for his actions at his acceptance speech.

Gianforte has repeated many of the national Republican talking points on the media, as well as on issues like healthcare and education. President Donald Trump and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon have derided journalists as the “enemy of the people” and “crooked.” While in Hamilton, Montana, for a campaign stop, Gianforte told a reporter that his supporters outnumbered the journalist after one mimed wringing the reporter's neck. And during his campaign for Montana governor, which began in 2015, he lost his temper at a meeting with the Missoulian editorial board, throwing his phone, pounding the table and yelling after editors pressed him on a question, according to witnesses. “When Greg got flustered we chalked it up to him being a new candidate, someone who maybe just hadn’t learned the political graces of how to handle himself under pressure,” says Jayme Fraser, a Montana political reporter who was in the room at the time. “I don’t know if you can still say that two years later.”

Evidently, the assault did not definitively sway late Montana voters. Fraser says this could be because of a persistent skepticism of politicians and journalists in the state due to a history of corruption and collusion with mining companies. After the assault, three major Montana newspapers rescinded their endorsements. Gianforte’s win means he’ll continue to face tough questioning from local and national reporters for his stances in Congress. “We will continue to persist, even if it means getting ‘man-handled’ for it,” Montana writer Eve Byron says. “Bring it on.”

Anna V. Smith is an editorial fellow at High Country News.