Greg Gianforte is the Republican candidate in the Montana congressional district (an at-large one) formerly represented by Ryan Zinke, now the Secretary of Interior. The Democrats are running country music singer Rob Quist.
The Democrats have been cautiously optimistic about winning this race, though they face an uphill battle in a district (coextensive with a state) Donald Trump carried by about 20 percentage points. For their part, Republicans have viewed the race as closer than it should be.
The Dems are probably more optimistic now that Gianforte has been accused of body-slamming a reporter. The reporter is Ben Jacobs of the Guardian, a left-leaning paper. This evening, he tweeted: “Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses.”
Alexis Levinson, now at BuzzFeed and formerly with National Review, partially confirmed Jacobs’ accusation. She tweeted that the confrontation occurred behind a half closed door, so she didn’t see it all. However, she did hear “a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”
A local television camera crew was on hand for an interview with Gianforte. Thus, we may be able see footage of the event.
Gianforte’s campaign has issued a statement about the altercation. It says that Jacobs “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.” When Jacobs declined a request to lower his recorder, Gianforte “attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face.” Jacobs then “grabbed [the candidate’s] wrist and spun away. . .pushing them both to the ground.” The statement concludes by blaming “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for creating the scene at a campaign volunteer barbecue.
You can hear the audio of the confrontation here. After the physical alteration, Gianforte, still enraged, yells at Jacobs. The reporter says he will call the police, and apparently he has.
I imagine that many Montanans will have little sympathy for Jacobs, who comes across as an overly aggressive twit who may have wanted to goad the GOP candidate and become part of the story for the benefit of the Democrats (presumably in less dramatic fashion, though). Whether they will find Gianforte’s response to Jacobs appropriate behavior for a congressman is another matter.
Montanans will have to sort it out quickly. The election is tomorrow.
If nothing else, Republicans now have an excuse for losing this seat, if that’s what happens.
UPDATE: I just remembered that in the Alaska Senate race of 2010, a supporter of Joe Miller, the Tea Party candidate and Republican nominee, had a reporter handcuffed and detained after he asked Miller an unpleasant question. There were a number of fairly small problems and incidents that, collectively, derailed Miller and enabled Lisa Murkowski, whom he had defeated in the Republican primary, to win the general election as an independent. The “arrest” of the journalist may have been one of them.