Republican multimillionaire Greg Gianforte won Montana’s only US House seat on Thursday despite being charged a day earlier with assault after witnesses said he grabbed a reporter by the neck and threw him to the ground.
Gianforte, a technology entrepreneur, defeated Democrat Rob Quist to continue the GOP’s two-decade stronghold on the congressional seat. Democrats had hoped Quist, a musician and first-time candidate, could have capitalised on a wave of activism following President Donald Trump’s election.
Instead, the win reaffirmed Montana’s voters support for Trump’s young presidency in a conservative-leaning state that voted overwhelmingly for him in November.
Gianforte was a strong favourite throughout the campaign and that continued even after authorities charged him with misdemeanour assault on Wednesday. Witnesses said he grabbed Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper, and slammed him to the ground after being asked about the Republican health care bill.
Gianforte dropped out of sight after he was cited by police and ignored calls on Thursday by national Republicans for him to apologise to the reporter.
He emerged only at his victory celebration Thursday night, where he said he accepted responsibility for the incident. “Last night I made a mistake and I took an action I can’t take back and I am not proud of what happened,” Gianforte told the crowd. “I should not have responded the way I did and for that I am sorry.”
The last-minute controversy unnerved Republicans, who also faced close calls this year in the traditionally Republican congressional districts in Kansas and Georgia. A runoff election is scheduled for next month in Georgia between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel after Ossoff fell just short of winning outright.
Quist told supporters that he called Gianforte to congratulate him on his win and to urge him to represent all Montanans. “I know that Montanans will hold Mr Gianforte…