GOP Lawmakers React as Candidate 'Bodyslamming' Incident Threatens Election

The Gallatin County Sheriff's office later charged Gianforte with misdemeanor assault, CNN reported.

Quist told supporters that he called Gianforte to congratulate him on his win and to urge him to represent all Montanans.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Gianforte "a wannabe Trump".

And while Gianforte was hesitant to embrace then-candidate Trump during that contest, he has been closely embracing the president this go-round, co-opting his familiar "drain the swamp" phrase and pledging to go to Washington to work with the president.

There are approximately 700,000 registered voters in Montana, but before polls opened Thursday morning state election officials say close to 260,000 Montanans had voted absentee. If convicted, he faces a possible maximum fine of $500 or up to six months in jail. The statement added that Jacobs' injuries did not meet the legal definition of felony assault. When Gianforte refused to answer the reporter's question, he allegedly took Jacobs to the ground, breaking Jacobs' glasses. "Gianforte then began punching the reporter".

The altercation between Greg Gianforte and reporter Ben Jacobs took place at a campaign event at Gianforte's headquarters in the city of Bozeman, Montana, the Guardian said. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, 'I'm sick and exhausted of this!' The last time you came here you did the same thing.

"Get the hell out of here", Gianforte says.

Gianforte's campaign issued a statement Wednesday blaming the incident on Jacobs. It contends he "aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face and began asking badgering questions" before being asked to leave.

They described Gianforte grabbing Jacobs by the neck with both hands and pushing him to the ground. "This request was later declined and we were asked to direct all further communications to the attorney". That was before Wednesday's altercation with Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for Britain's The Guardian.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault Wednesday after an audio recording and eye witnesses appeared to describe him slamming a reporter for the Guardian to the ground. "I don't advocate violence, but when you're told to back off, you need to back off".

It backed Donald Trump by 20 percentage points over Hillary Clinton but also re-elected its Democratic governor, who defeated Gianforte in November by 5 percentage points.

Gianforte, a tech entrepreneur who has aligned himself with President Donald Trump, said the reporter was being aggressive and grabbed him by the wrist at his campaign office. With the possibility of a Democrat holding a US House seat in the state for the first time in two decades, the race drew worldwide attention.

Gianforte also was rolling up huge margins in the state's rural counties - an area where Quist, a country singer, had hoped he could fare better. Republicans believed the race had closed in the final days, but that Gianforte still had a slim lead. Robocalls are illegal in Montana, according to state law.

"There's always two sides to a story, but this doesn't look good", Sales said. That was certain to minimize the impact of the election-eve events.

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