Gianforte elected to U.S. House; apologizes to reporter - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana


Gianforte elected to U.S. House; apologizes to reporter

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Republican Greg Gianforte has defeated Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks in Montana’s special congressional election.

During his acceptance speech in Bozeman, Gianforte said that his campaign won a victory "for all Montanans."

He also said, "Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi can't call the shots here in Montana."

Gianforte then addressed the incident that happened on Wednesday night, in which he assaulted reporter Ben Jacobs.

He said, "I learned a lesson. I need to share something from my heart. Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can't take back. I'm not proud of what happened. For that I'm sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that, I am sorry, Ben Jacobs."

He also apologized to the Fox News team that was present during the incident.

With more than 320,000 votes counted more than two hours after polls closed, Gianforte led Quist by more than 22,000 votes, or 51 percent to 44 percent. Wicks had the remaining 6 percent.

Gianforte will replace Ryan Zinke in the U.S. House; Zinke left the job several months to become the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

Montana voters went to the polls Thursday to choose their only U.S. House representative, in a race marred by an assault charge filed the eve before the election against Gianforte. 

Gianforte, a 56-year-old software entrepreneur from Bozeman, allegedly grabbed and punched a reporter Wednesday evening at a campaign event, as the reporter tried to question him over the GOP’s national health-care bill.

Gallatin County officials cited Gianforte for misdemeanor assault Wednesday and, since then, Gianforte hasn’t spoken to any media or issued any statements beyond a disputed account of the exchange between himself and Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.

But at least 260,000 votes had been cast absentee before the incident occurred, and Republicans said Thursday they sensed that the altercation hadn’t made much difference – even in the face of intense national, state and even international coverage of the election and alleged assault.

Gianforte was expected to address supporters at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman Thursday night, possibly after the race was called in his favor.

In the voting, Quist had done well in Democratic strongholds like Missoula, Helena and Bozeman – but Gianforte held a big lead in Billings, the state’s biggest city, and a led in usually Democratic Cascade County (Great Falls).

Gianforte also was rolling up huge margins in the state’s rural counties – an area where Quist, a country singer, had hoped he could fare better.

Gianforte is opposed by Democrat Quist, a songwriter and musician, and Wicks, a farmer from Inverness. The contest for Montana’s sole U.S. House seat began after Republican Ryan Zinke resigned in March, when he became U.S. Interior secretary.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., both have said that Gianforte should apologize for his actions.

Yet Ryan said Thursday the people of Montana would decide their next congressman, and declined to say they shouldn’t vote for Gianforte.

Most polls had shown Gianforte with a lead at least in the single digits going into Wednesday.

Whether Gianforte’s widely reported altercation with Jacobs may influence the final outcome remains to be seen.

At least two-thirds of the expected votes – some 260,000 – have already been cast, by absentee ballots that can’t be changed.

That means anywhere from a third to a fourth of the overall vote will happen at the polls Thursday.

Political scientists have said the turnout on Election Day tends to lean Republican.

Jeremy Johnson, an associate professor of political science at Carroll College, told MTN News the big question is whether that dynamic changes.

He said less committed Gianforte supporters could stay home Thursday, or other voters could be motivated to come out for Quist or Wicks. But whether those effects are enough to sway the outcome is a guessing game, he said.

Quist remained mum about the incident, saying only that it’s in the hands of law enforcement, and spent the day in Missoula, where he’s having an election-night party of his own.

Reported by Mike Dennison and David Sherman

The Associated Press has called the Montana U.S. special election for Greg Gianforte.

Gianforte, the Republican candidate, will serve as Montana's sole U.S. representative.

He will be taking the place of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

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