(UPI) — Republican Greg Gianforte won a special election for Montana’s at-large U.S. House seat on Thursday, a day after being cited for assaulting a reporter, for which he apologized.
Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist for a House seat vacated by former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who was appointed President Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Giaforte led with 50.4 percent of the votes to Quist’s 43.9 percent.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recorded robocalls urging voters not to let the Democrats take the seat. Gianforte’s victory preserved the GOP’s 24-seat advantage in the House of Representatives.
Gianforte was considered the favorite with a single-digit lead over Quist in recent polling data. That was before Wednesday’s altercation with Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for Britain’s The Guardian.
Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault stemming from a scuffle in which the candidate allegedly “body slammed” Jacobs, who was asking a question.
At his election night rally in Bozeman on Thursday, Gianforte apologized for his behavior.
“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” he said. “That’s the Montana way. I should not have responded the way I did. For that I’m sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.”
In an audio recording published by The Guardian, Jacobs is heard asking Gianforte about Wednesday’s Congressional Budget Office score of the American Health Care Act, which the candidate supports.
“We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte said, to which Jacobs replied, “Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious about it right now.”
After Gianforte told Jacobs to ask his spokesman, there’s sound of a scuffle and Gianforte shouting.
“I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last guy that came in here did the same thing,” the candidate is heard saying. “Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with The Guardian?”
“You just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs said moments later.
Gianforte’s campaign said Jacobs was the aggressor in the incident and grabbed the candidate’s wrist before they both fell to the ground.
Earlier Thursday, multiple Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, called on Gianforte to apologize. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has also denounced Gianforte’s actions.
“That is wrong and should not have happened,” Ryan said Thursday. “I do not think this is acceptable behavior.”
“Donald Trump is his model,” Pelosi said. “That was outrageous.”
Gianforte, who will defend the seat during next year’s mid-term elections, sounded contrite. More than a quarter-million voters out of nearly 375,000 total cast their ballots before the incident
“Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back,” he said. “I’m not proud of what happened.”
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