Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte has been cited for misdemeanor assault after allegedly attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on Wednesday at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana, the local county sheriff has announced. Gianforte is running against Democrat Rob Quist in Thursday’s special election to fill Montana’s only House seat, which was vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
According to both the Guardian and a national Fox News crew that witnessed the event, Jacobs approached Gianforte on Wednesday at about 5 p.m. local time while holding a tape recorder to ask him a question about the American Health Care Act. Gianforte—a 55-year-old software executive who, per the Guardian itself, was upset with the publication’s previous coverage of his campaign—declined to answer. When Jacobs continued questioning him, the candidate, in the words of Fox News’ report, “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground.” Jacobs described the incident as a “body slam.” Both Jacobs and Fox News say Gianforte also struck Jacobs with his hands more than once.
Gianforte’s campaign released a statement accusing Jacobs of provoking the altercation:
The Fox News account, however, states that while Jacobs was holding a recorder toward Gianforte, “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression.” Audio of the incident—posted at the top of this piece—doesn’t capture Jacobs being asked to leave or lower his recorder, but does seem to indicate that Gianforte suddenly escalated the situation while Jacobs was questioning him in a relatively sedate tone of voice.
Polls in Montana open Thursday at 7 a.m. No recent public polling is available, but reports say that privately conducted polls have shown Gianforte leading Quist by a single-digit margin. Montana allows early voting, and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that 259,312 ballots have already been cast out of a total of 699,207 registered voters in the state. Polling guru Nate Silver, however, notes that early voters tend to be “committed” individuals who are less likely than day-of voters to be persuaded by late-breaking events such as one of the candidates (allegedly) choking and punching a reporter for asking a question about health care. Both the Billings Gazette and the Missoulian, the papers based in the state’s two largest cities, have revoked their endorsements of Gianforte in the hours since Wednesday’s incident.