Greg Gianforte will be Montana’s next at-large representative in the U.S. House.
The Republican candidate has built an insurmountable lead in the closely watched by-election, a race that Democrats hoped would be an upset built on anti-Trump resentment. But the GOP candidate held his own: Gianforte is currently carrying 50.3 percent of the vote with 72 percent of precincts reporting. The votes left to be counted are mostly from rural districts where Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate, is not expected to perform strongly.
The seat became vacant in January when former Representative Ryan Zinke resigned to join the Trump administration as secretary of the interior. Political watchers on both sides of the aisle viewed the race to choose his replacement as a potential indicator for whether President Trump’s increasingly tumultuous presidency would drag down the Republican ticket in next year’s midterms. Republicans can take heart that the favorable terrain and flood of resources—groups backing Gianforte outspent those backing Quist by a three-to-one margin—carried the day. Democrats, for their part, can take solace that Gianforte will likely fall short of Zinke’s margin seven months earlier by about five percentage points. Applying that trend nationwide wouldn’t give the Democrats control of the House, but it would shave off a few seats from Speaker Paul Ryan’s majority.
But the most enduring memory of the contest will be Gianforte’s choke slam of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of the election, which drew condemnation from across the political spectrum. As my colleague Yoni Appelbaum noted earlier this evening, there’s little chance he’ll be tossed out of Congress. Whether he’ll be able to escape the citation for misdemeanor assault will be decided by June 7 in the Gallatin County Justice Court. In the meantime, he’ll be headed to Capitol Hill where his new elected office awaits—along with a legion of congressional reporters who’ll continue to shove microphones in his face for at least the next two years.