Those outside of Montana might not have been following the special election on Thursday, which will determine the state's House Representative following former Rep. Ryan Zinke's appointment to secretary of the Interior. But one of the candidates is getting a whole lot of national attention following an alleged altercation with a reporter the night before the vote. So who is Greg Gianforte, the Republican accused of assaulting the Guardian's Ben Jacobs, and does he still have a chance of winning?
According to his campaign website, Gianforte is a family man and a job creator who appreciates Montana's public lands and wants to grow the state's economy. The Washington Post paints him as a Pennsylvania tech millionaire with an alleged history of aggression towards the press and some eyebrow-raising views, like his partial funding of a creationist museum, his belief that businesses prefer "towns that aren’t friendly to homosexuals," and his argument against the concept of retirement: "How old was Noah when he built the ark? Six hundred. He wasn’t, like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn’t hanging out, he was working."
Romper has contacted the Gianforte campaign for comment on the Post's coverage.
According to the Great Falls Tribune, three local newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte on Thursday, but it's unclear if Wednesday night's incident will have much of an effect on the race; the Billings Gazette reported that 45 percent of Montana voters cast absentee ballots in November, and as of late Wednesday night, 73 percent of this election's absentee ballots had already been returned, according to the Tribune.
Gianforte's trouble on Wednesday night began at a campaign event, when Jacobs asked him to comment on the Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. An audio recording published by the Guardian (embedded above) appears to depict Gianforte calmly rebuffing Jacobs twice, before a sudden series of crashing sounds followed by shouting, alleged to be Gianforte: "Sick and tired of you guys! The last guy that came in here did the same thing! Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!" On Thursday's Good Morning America, Jacobs told anchor George Stephanopoulos, "He grabbed my recorder, and next thing I knew, I'd gone from being vertical to horizontal on the floor. He was on top of me and whaling on me." The Gianforte campaign has not responded to Romper's request for comment.
Jacobs' account was confirmed by Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who claimed that she witnessed the event firsthand, along with field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey: "Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground." Acuna claimed that "Gianforte then began punching the reporter," and "moved on top of Jacobs" while shouting at him. Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin released a statement saying that Gianforte has been cited for misdemeanor assault, which can carry a penalty of a $500 fine, six months in jail, or both.
During his GMA interview, according to The Hill, Jacobs said, "The only thing in Gianforte's statement that is factually correct is my name and my place of employment." Acuna agreed that "at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte." Gianforte is scheduled to appear before Gallatin County Justice Court by June 7 to face assault charges. Jacobs has not been charged with any crime.