Republican candidate Greg Gianforte has won Montana's only US House seat despite being charged with assault barely 24 hours earlier. The win reaffirms Montana voters' support for President Donald Trump.
The Republican Party on Thursday maintained its two-decade grip on Montana's sole congressional seat, as Greg Gianforte defeated Democrat first-time candidate Rob Quist.
Gianforte, a multimillionaire technology executive, was the strong favorite to win despite being charged with misdemeanor assault just a day before the vote. Witnesses reported that the Republican had grabbed Guardian newspaper journalist Ben Jacobs by the neck and thrown him to the ground after being asked about the GOP healthcare bill.
The Montana representative dropped out of sight after the incident only to emerge at his victory celebration on Thursday, where he apologized for the incident. "Last night I made a mistake and I took an action I can't take back and I am not proud of what happened," he told the crowd of supporters. "I should not have responded the way I did and for that I am sorry."
A projection pole by the US news broadcaster CNN gave the Republican a seven percent lead over his Democrat rival.
Assault charge has little bearing on race
Although three state newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte, the assault charge did not appear to deter voters or impact the race. Around a third of ballots had already been cast by the Wednesday night in early voting, while many voters told local news that the "body-slamming" incident did not influence their choice of candidate.
"If you have somebody sticking a phone in your face, a mic in your face, over and over, and you don't know how to deal with the situation… I can see where it can… make you a little angry," Shaun Scott, a computer science professor at Carroll College in Helena, told the Associated Press news agency.
However, Gianforte could face a more serious charge once prosecutors review the incident, according to Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert. The Republican has two weeks to enter a plea to the misdemeanor, by which time Lambert said he would decide whether review the case as a felony offense.
An endorsement for Trump
Thursday's House race in Montana was billed as one of the first electoral tests of President Donald Trump's political clout ahead of next year's congressional elections.
In a conservative-leaning state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in November, Gianforte campaigned as an ebullient supporter of the president, urging Montana voters to send him to Washington DC help Trump "drain the swamp."
Republican groups supported Gianforte's campaign with million of dollars worth of advertisement money, while the party even flew in Vice President Mike Pence and first son Donald Trump Jr. to campaign alongside Gianforte.
Montana's Democrat candidate Rob Quist also ran on an activist platform, winning the endorsement of Vermon Senator Bernie Sanders.
Democrat Quist, a country folk singer and political novice, also ran a non-traditional, populist campaign for the Democrats, which included appearances by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Quist's campaign, however, was marred by reports of unpaid taxes, loan defaults and legal squabbles. Republicans successfully capitalized on the Democrat's economic woes in their campaigning, despite Quist's best attempts to turn those negatives into positives by saying his story illustrated the problems facing thousands of Montanans.
dm/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters)