In testing Montana vote for Trump,
Republican caught up in brawl
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[May 25, 2017]
By Justin Mitchell
MISSOULA, Mont. (Reuters) - A Democratic
political novice hopes to pull off a surprise victory in
Republican-leaning Montana on Thursday in a special congressional race
roiled on the eve of voting by allegations that the Republican candidate
physically assaulted a reporter.
Democrat Rob Quist, a banjo-playing folk singer and first-time
candidate, is facing off against Republican tech executive Greg
Gianforte in a tightening race for the U.S. House of Representatives
seat vacated when President Donald Trump named Ryan Zinke as secretary
of the interior.
Republicans have held Montana's lone House seat for two decades and
Gianforte was still favored in a state that Trump won by more than 20
percentage points in the 2016 election.
But the race was jolted on Wednesday when a political correspondent for
the U.S. edition of the Guardian newspaper said in a Twitter post that
Gianforte had "body slammed" him in a confrontation at a campaign event
in Bozeman in which the reporter's eyeglasses were broken.
Hours after the incident, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office charged
Gianforte with misdemeanor assault and issued him a citation. Gianforte
has until June 7 to appear in a county court. He faces a $500 fine and
six months in jail if convicted, the sheriff said in a statement.
"The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of
felony assault," Sheriff Brian Gootkin said.
The incident, capping a campaign seen as a bellwether for next year's
mid-term congressional races, occurred as Guardian correspondent Ben
Jacobs was trying to ask Gianforte about healthcare, according to an
audio tape captured by Jacobs and played on cable television.
Fox News Channel reporter Alicia Acuna, who said she and her crew were
in the room preparing to interview Gianforte, wrote that she saw the
candidate as he "grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed
him to the ground".
Acuna, her field producer and photographer then "watched in disbelief as
Gianforte began punching (Jacobs) as he moved to on top of the
reporter," she wrote.
Gianforte's campaign did not deny Jacobs' allegation but countered in
its own statement that Jacobs provoked an altercation by barging into
the candidate's office, shoving a recording device in his face and
"asking badgering questions."
"After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined," campaign
spokesman Shane Scanlon wrote. "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," the
[to top of second column]
Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte greets
voters while campaigning for a special election in Missoula,
Montana, U.S. May 24, 2017 in this still image from video.
Acuna disputed that Jacobs was the aggressor.
"At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs
show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte," Acuna wrote
on the Fox News website.
Quist declined to comment immediately. He has focused his campaign
on sharply criticizing the Republican effort to repeal and replace
former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law,
the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
According to the audio tape, Jacobs' encounter with Gianforte turned
violent when he tried to ask the candidate if he supported a
Republican healthcare overhaul bill after the Congressional Budget
Office found the measure would cost 23 million Americans their
medical insurance coverage by 2026.
A Democratic upset in the race would set off alarms for Republicans
already worried about the effects of Trump's unpopularity and the
healthcare issue on their candidates in next year's midterm
elections, when Republicans must defend their 24-seat House
It would also give Democrats grassroots momentum heading into two
special House elections for Republican-held seats next month, in
Georgia and South Carolina. Republicans had to sweat out a
closer-then-expected special House election win in conservative
Kansas last month.
Gianforte has touted his willingness to work with Trump, who is
still relatively popular in Montana. But Quist, who reported raising
$6 million for the race, has urged voters to send Republicans a
message about healthcare. Gianforte says he supports the effort to
repeal Obamacare but has not backed the Republican bill passed by
"I will only vote for a repeal and replace that brings premiums
down, protects people with pre-existing conditions, and protects
rural access. I can’t make that guarantee to Montanans yet, so I
haven’t seen a proposal that I can support," Gianforte told a news
station in Missoula on Wednesday.
(Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)
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