The audio recording of Greg Gianforte’s body slam of reporter Ben Jacobs is sending shockwaves during the 2017 Montana Special Election polls. Before Wednesday night, the millionaire Republican seemed to have the lead in the election polling numbers, but now, the political reporter for The Guardian is claiming the scuffle was an assault, and even House Speaker Paul Ryan is demanding an apology.
It is possible that Democrat Rob Quist could use the allegations to his advantage and pull out a win in the Montana Special Election. Both men are seeking to fill Montana’s seat in the U.S. House left vacant when Ryan Zinke left to join Donald Trump’s Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior. The political race is largely viewed as a referendum on Trump’s presidency and the GOP as a whole.
The scuffle began when Jacobs was questioning Gianforte about the CBO score of so-called Trumpcare, the AHCA bill that passed the House but still may have months before the Senate passes the bill on to Trump for his signature. Gianforte can be heard sounding frustrated, saying he was sick and tired of “you guys.”
“[Gianforte] took me to the ground. This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics,” said Jacobs.
The sound of grappling can be heard, and Jacobs cries out, “Jesus!” The reporter claims the Republican body-slammed him into the ground, breaking his glasses on the ground.
“The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte exclaimed after the physical altercation was over. “The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”
In response to allegations, the campaign for Greg Gianforte For Congress called Ben a “liberal” and claimed the reporter was responsible for the incident since he allegedly “aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.”
“Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. 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.”
According to the Associated Press, Gianforte is being charged with misdemeanor assault after witnesses claimed the Republican grabbed the reporter by the neck and body-slammed him into the ground. Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna wrote that “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.” However, the level of injuries sustained by Jacobs did not meet the legal definition of felony assault. If convicted, Gianforte faces a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
House Speaker Paul Ryan wants the Montana Special Election to continue, saying it will be up to Montana voters whether they still want Gianforte to serve in Congress for the state, but he also wants Gianforte to apologize to Jacobs.
“I do not think this is acceptable behavior, but the choice will be made by the people of Montana,” Ryan said, according to NBC News. “There is no time when a physical altercations should occur with the press and just between human beings. So that is wrong and it just should not have happened…I think he should apologize.”
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) May 25, 2017
Montana Special Election Polls Still Could Favor Greg Gianforte’s Win?
The polling numbers have fluctuated ahead of the Montana Special Election, but everyone agrees that Gianforte has maintained a lead in the majority of polls for months ahead of the vote. Rob Quist’s polls were good with recent Google Consumer Surveys, which had Quist leading by seven and 14 percentage points, but according to Five Thirty Eight the “consensus among insiders is that Gianforte has a small advantage,” and Google’s survey methods allegedly have “methodological issues.”
“What effect all this [body-slamming of a reporter] will have on today’s special election is … unclear,” said Five Thirty Eight. “Suffice to say that we don’t have much precedent for election-eve body-slamming.”
Five Thirty Eight notes that special House elections have a “true margin of error” of 13 percentage points, both up and down. Based on historical data, they “wouldn’t expect the Montana House special election to be at all close” since the state has 21 percent more Republicans than the national average. Thus, Gianforte’s win or loss margin could be used as a sign of how Americans view politicians aligned with Trump, although it’s unclear how many people would vote differently based upon the recent assault charges against Gianforte.
A moment of silence for Ben Jacobs spectacles.
“Montana GOP” pic.twitter.com/NAaQXFpVMR
— Belle Curves (@JaynePenelope) May 25, 2017
Montana Early Voting May Largely Determine The 2017 Election Results
One overriding factor is that Montana’s early voting laws do not allow people to change their mind on election day and change their vote at the polls. Analysts estimate that as many as two-thirds of Montana voters have already cast their ballot as an absentee voter.
Some Democrats are using Greg Gianforte’s body slam of Ben Jacobs as a rallying cry to get out the vote at the last minute. Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair Keith Ellison has called on Gianforte to withdraw from the Montana Special Election and instead “focus on his legal problems.” But Rob Quist himself is distancing himself from the controversy. “I’m just focused on the issues that are facing the people of Montana,” he said.
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]