Republican Greg Gianforte won Thursday night's special election for Montana's U.S. House seat, despite being charged with assaulting a Guardian reporter just hours before the polls opened.
Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist by more than 24,000 votes out of nearly 270,000 ballots cast, with 84 percent of precincts reporting. Roughly one-third of eligible voters in Montana had already cast their ballots for the congressional race through early voting.
Gianforte used part of his victory to apologize to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.
"When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it," Gianforte said. "That's the Montana way. Last night I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can't take back, and I'm not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I'm sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I am sorry Mr. Ben Jacobs."
Witnesses, including a Fox News crew, said Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck and slammed him to the ground while yelling "Get the hell out of here!"
Gianforte campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon said the candidate was in a private office giving a TV interview when Jacobs entered without permission.
"Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave," Scanlon said. "After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."
Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna posted the following account of the incident:
"Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"
"Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
"To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies."
The Guardian posted an audio clip in which Gianforte can be heard saying he was "sick and tired of you guys."
Gianforte ran for governor in Montana last fall as a moderate supporter Donald Trump supporter. But during his congressional campaign, Gianforte was a passionate Trump supporter who urged Montana voters to help "drain the swamp."