Fresh off his recent heavyweight royal rumble, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte has claimed victory in Montana’s special election and will now represent the Big Sky state in the US House of Representatives. This comes as a slight surprise to some, considering that the victory comes just 24 or so hours after Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly body slamming a journalist to the ground.
Gianforte, a 56-year-old millionaire who ran an unsuccessful bid for Montana Governor in 2016, ended up beating his Democratic rival for the House seat, Rob Quist, by just 6 percentage points in a race that was much closer than anyone would have predicted just a few months or even weeks ago.
The race had already begun to tighten up long before Gianforte made the ill-advised decision to grab a reporter from the Guardian by the neck and slam him to the ground, and in fact, the special election has been garnering national attention for weeks. This was partly due to the fact that Democratic candidate Rob Quist had received the backing of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who actively campaigned for Quist in Montana and also through the media.
In the end though, it is still no surprise that Gianforte won in spite of his assault charge as he was competing for one of the most strongly Republican-leaning seats in all of Congress. Still, an upset would have spelled bad news for beleaguered Republicans and served as a huge boost to Democrats hoping to use anti-Trump sentiment to help win back control of the House in 2018.
Did the Assault Charge Have Any Effect?
The early-voting rules in Montana meant that the assault charge wasn’t likely to hurt Gianforte too much coming as close as it did to the election. By the time the news of Gianforte’s assault charge emerged, more than two-thirds of all ballots had already been cast. Had the Republican candidate lost his cool and assaulted a journalist a few weeks early, there is a chance that things could have turned out different for Quist and Democrats. However, there are also reports that the assault charge didn’t actually cause many people who planned on voting for Gianforte to change their minds.
Examining the Candidates
The race was quite unique in that on one side you had a millionaire software developer, while on the other side you had a folk singer and musician labeled by opponents as a cowboy hat wearing hippie. Quist is a founding member of popular Montana folk group the Mission Mountain Wood Band and is quite well-known and loved across his home state. Unfortunately for him, his state also happens to be one of the most right-leaning in all of the country.
Nonetheless by positioning himself as an independent man of the people and attempting to paint his opponent as rich, greedy and beholden to corporate America, Quist was able to achieve far better results than most would have ever imagined. Still, Democrats were hoping that Quist could finally be the man to lead them to victory after suffering defeat in the other two special elections this year.
It remains to be seen what impact Gianforte’s election will have on future Democrat and Republican strategies leading into 2018. By being elected and joining the club of current Congress members facing criminal charges, Gianforte showed that Republicans might not be quite as vulnerable as they first appeared. On the other hand, by coming in so close in such a strong Republican area, Quist could easily convince other potential Democratic candidates to jump into the ring.
Many credit the poor showing by Democrats in 2016 to extremely poor choices of candidates, which means that the more Democrats that consider running, the better the chances are that the party will actually be able to field candidates with a chance of winning. Either way, it will be interesting to see how both parties adjust their strategies based on this latest evidence.