After a painful trouncing by the GOP in November, Democrats looked to Big Sky Country to shift the scales. But on Wednesday, Greg Gianforte won Montana's special election for Ryan Zinke's empty House seat, scoring over 50 percent of the state's votes.
Gianforte is a rich politician who made a fortune in a software business that was sold to Oracle. It's estimated that his wealth is somewhere between $65 million and $315 million, according to financial disclosures, The Guardian reported. He has said he would put his wealth in a trust if elected.
He supports conservative policies like repealing Obamacare and tax reform. He was caught on tape with Republican lobbyists in Washington D.C. supporting the bill, The New York Times reported.
"The votes in the House are going to determine whether we get tax reform done, sounds like we just passed a health care thing, which I’m thankful for, sounds like we’re starting to repeal and replace," Gianforte said.
His Democratic opponent, Rob Quist, a folk musician, won 43.4 percent of the vote and has made headlines for policies that are completely contrary to Trump and the Republicans. He plays the banjo, supports universal health care, and speaks in defense of public lands. "My goal is to be a strong, independent voice for the people of Montana," Quist said on the campaign trail. He also enjoyed comparisons to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
But ultimately, their views may have had less to do with the outcome. What many had tried to paint as another referendum on President Trump and the Republicans took a last-minute turn when Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly attacking a journalist working on the campaign trail Wednesday.
The Guardian's Ben Jacobs, according to other journalists who were present, was asking questions to Gianforte when the candidate allegedly grabbed the journalist by the neck and slammed him to the ground. Jacobs' glasses were reportedly broken in the process.
Jacobs told The Guardian, "I think he wailed 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."
The campaign's spokesman Shane Scanlon had a different version of events, as he denied that Gianforte was the aggressor and blamed Jacobs instead.
"The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions," Scanlon said in a statement. "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."
The special election in Montana is the third House seat to come up since Republicans swept to power in the November election. All three have been in traditionally red states, but the races have all turned out to be closer than expected, with Jon Ossoff in Georgia nearly winning his seat in the first round of voting. Then James Thompson, a Kansas Democrat, improved his share of the vote over Hillary Clinton in the same district. But now in Montana, Gianforte's win is reason to question whether Democrats truly have the momentum.