Gianforte wins Montana’s lone House seat, apologizes for assault

Representative elect Greg Gianforte apologizes for becoming involved in an altercation with a reporter less than 24 hours before the special congressional election during his victory speech in Bozeman, Montana May 25, 2017. COLTER PETERSON/REUTERS

By Martin Kidston and Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House Thursday night, and used his victory speech to apologize for body slamming a reporter on Election Eve.

The Bozeman millionaire took the stage at 10:45 p.m., after the statewide count showed him with 50 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Democrat Rob Quist and 6 percent for Libertarian Mark Wicks.

At 7 a.m. Friday, with all precincts reporting, the Montana Secretary of State listed Gianforte with 189,473 votes, or 50 percent, to Quist’s 166,483, or 44 percent. Wicks picked up 21,509 votes.

With all precincts reporting, Missoula County showed 61 percent of its ballots marked for Quist, or 24,310. Gianforte collected 13,247 votes, or 33 percent. Wicks had 1,732 ballots, or 4 percent.

It was the widest victory for Quist in the state.

Montanans had to choose a new representative – their sole voice among the 435 House members – after Rep. Ryan Zinke was named the nation’s Interior secretary earlier this year.

The race was limited to a 100-day campaign – and saw Gianforte commit the only major gaffe on the final day, when he allegedly attacked a reporter and was charged with misdemeanor assault by the Gallatin County sheriff.

In his victory speech late Thursday, Gianforte apologized to Ben Jacobs, the political reporter for The Guardian who he threw to the floor 24 hours earlier, igniting a firestorm of national media scrutiny.

“Last night, I made a mistake,” Gianforte said. “I took an action that I cannot take back. I am not proud of what happened. I should not have responded the way I did, and for that I am sorry.”

“I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs,” he continued. “That’s not the person I am and not the way that I am going to lead in this state.

“You deserve a congressman who steps out of the limelight and just works hard.”

“Apology accepted,” came a shout from the audience.

Gianforte used the remainder of his speech to reiterate his support for President Donald Trump’s initiatives, saying he will help “drain the swamp” and will insist that Congress balances the federal budget.

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Democrat Rob Quist and his family thank supporters during the candidate’s concession speech, in downtown Missoula shortly after 11 p.m. on Thursday night. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Quist, a folk singer with no previous political experience, delivered his concession speech in Missoula shortly after 11 p.m., telling supporters their voices were heard during the campaign.

“We came up short, but the energy and grassroots movement in the state goes on,” Quist told supporters who lingered to hear him speak. “I called Mr. Gianforte and talked to him about how important it is to reach out to all Montanans. I know Montanans will hold Mr. Gianforte accountable.”

Earlier in the evening, Montana Democratic Party executive director Nancy Keenan said she was proud of the party’s “amazing feat” in assembling a campaign team in such a short amount of time, “getting a ground game up and running,” and putting Quist on the road.

“That was what was amazing,” she said. “Rob was in every small town, every little corner of this state, whether he was barnstorming dorms or out in Miles City.

“He was just willing to go the extra mile.”

Gianforte, who lost last November’s race for Montana’s governorship, said his victory was a win for the Second Amendment, as well as for public lands.

“We won a victory for every hardworking Montana family, because their voice hasn’t been heard,” Gianforte said. “Tonight, Montanans are sending a wake-up call to the Washington, D.C., establishment. Montanans said Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi can’t call the shots here in Montana. Montanans said, we’re going to drain the swamp.”