WASHINGTON — Body-slamming businessman Greg Gianforte won a special election on Thursday for an open congressional seat in Montana.
Gianforte, who is facing misdemeanor charges after assaulting a reporter on Wednesday, bested Democrat Rob Quist by 51%-44% with 77% of precincts reporting when the Associated Press called the race.
The multimillionaire tech entrepreneur, a vocal supporter of President Trump, was the target of national backlash after he attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of the election.
The confrontation was caught on audio recording and corroborated by other reporters in the room at the time.
But he was lucky the bizarre incident happened when it did.
Montanans mostly vote by mail, and more than two thirds of the vote was already cast by the time news broke of his attack.
“When you make a mistake you have to own up to it. Last night I made a mistake… I’m sorry,” Gianforte said during his victory speech. The winner‘s campaign initially said Jacobs was to blame for the altercation.
The result is a disappointment for Democrats, and there are sure to be some complaints from progressives that the national party didn’t do enough for their candidate, though the relatively close margin offers a silver lining for the left.
Gianforte was boosted by Vice President Pence and millions in ads bought by national Republican groups. Quist, a country singer who received little financial support from national Democratic groups until the final weeks of the campaign.
Outside groups dumped more than $ 6 million into the race, with 90% of that supporting Gianforte, as Democrats decided early on that they didn’t see much hope for the flawed Quist to win.
Trump’s 20-point victory in the state just a few months ago was discouraging as well.
But the relatively close results Thursday heartened some Democrats.
There are 114 House districts held by Republicans where Hillary Clinton did better in the 2016 elections. Some Dems say they might have a chance to defeat Gianforte next fall with a better candidate and time to hammer him for his legal troubles.
Now that he’s won, Gianforte becomes a problem that House Republicans can’t just ignore. GOP lawmakers squirmed all over the hill on Thursday when pressed on their support for the candidate.
“That is wrong and it should not have happened. Should the gentleman apologize? Yeah, I think he should apologize,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said earlier in the day.