Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s special election on Thursday, according to projections from multiple news outlets.
The news comes a little more than 24 hours after the former failed gubernatorial candidate allegedly assaulted a reporter for the Gaurdian by body-slamming him in front of witnesses while being recorded by audiotape. Gianforte’s account of the alleged attack—that Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was actually the one who forced both of them to the ground after hounding the candidate with a recording device—was contradicted by multiple eyewitnesses. Those witnesses from a local Fox News team said, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him” and then started punching him. Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault.
With about 78 percent of the vote counted, the billionaire tech CEO was leading by roughly 34,000 votes, or a little more than 7 percent. It’s worth noting that the Election Day vote totals could not likely have changed the outcome of the race, in which two-thirds of the votes were cast early.
If the numbers hold, Democrats might actually consider it an encouraging sign nationally. Gianforte and his affiliated super PACs outspent Democratic opponent and country music performer Rob Quist and his super PAC supporters by about $5 million. Donald Trump won his race against Hillary Clinton this past fall in the state by 20 points, while Ryan Zinke—the Republican whose seat is being filled after he left Congress to become Trump’s Interior Secretary—won his contest by just under 16 points.
So you’re looking at about a +13 point swing for the Democrats from November’s presidential tally, and a nearly +9 point swing from last year’s congressional race. That was not enough for Democrats to take a seat they haven’t won in 20 years, but it is consistent with a recent pattern in this year’s special elections of large swings toward the Democrats. Last month in a deep-red Kansas district, Democrats experienced a 24-point swing. (They still lost the race in an incredibly unfavorable district.)
Meanwhile, Georgia’s 6th—much more favorable territory for Democrats—votes next month in a runoff election. The Democratic candidate in that race leads according to the most recent polling and took the plurality of votes in the first round. Still, at a some point just seeing positive national trends isn’t going to be good enough for Democrats and they are actually going to need to put a win on the board. The Georgia runoff between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel will take place on June 20. Close will not cut it for Democrats in that race, if they want to have a real signal that the unpopularity of the Trump administration is actually translating at the polls and that 2018 will put the House of Representatives in play.