The contest for Montana’s only congressional seat was triggered after the sitting House Representative, Ryan Zinke, quit his job to become Donald Trump’s secretary of the Interior Department. The race pitches Republican Greg Gianforte against Democrat Rob Quist.
Yet on the eve of polling, the race received an unexpected jolt of drama when Mr Gianforte was charge with assault after allegedly body-slamming Ben Jacobs, a reporter from the Guardian, who had been trying to question him about the Republican healthcare proposal and the estimated number of people who would lose coverage under it.
“He took me to the ground,” Mr Jacobs told his newspaper, as he was taken to hospital in the back of an ambulance. “I think he whaled on me once or twice. He got on me and I think he hit me. This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”
Mr Jacobs’ account of what happened has been supported by an audio recording of the incident and the words of a Fox News journalist, Alicia Acuna, who was present at the time and who later wrote: “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”
Mr Gianforte, a tech millionaire, has disputed this version of events.
His campaign issued a statement blaming the incident on Mr Jacobs, saying he “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions”. The newspaper issued its own statement, backing Mr Jacobs and his behaviour.
The contest has received national attention, coming hard on the heels of another special election in Georgia, which was also seen as a potential referendum on Mr Trump’s performance in the White House.
In that contest, there was speculation Democrat Jon Ossoff might be able to win an April 18 primary by securing more than 50 per…