By Jim Ellis
May 25, 2017 — On the eve of today’s Montana special election, at-large Republican special election congressional nominee Greg Gianforte was involved in a physical altercation with a national news reporter, Ben Jacobs from the Guardian-US publication, a confrontation the correspondent described as being “body slammed.”
According to Gianforte campaign spokespeople, Jacobs pushed his way into an inner office area where a different interviewer was questioning the candidate. Shane Scanlon, speaking for the Republican nominee, said the Guardian correspondent entered the room and immediately started aggressively interrogating Gianforte about the newly released Congressional Budget Office report that scored the GOP healthcare legislation.
An audio of the conflict contains indistinguishable sounds, but ends with Jacobs claiming he had been thrown to the ground and his eyeglasses broken after Gianforte yells that he is “sick of this,” a reference to what he apparently believes is harassment from news reporters. Jacobs is then heard saying that he wanted to call the police. Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, opened an ongoing investigation but left the premises without arresting or charging Gianforte with any crime. The inquiry, however, is far from over.
Since so many Montanans have already cast their ballot for today’s election, this incident is unlikely to greatly affect the final outcome. Because of the large number of mailed ballots already in possession of local county election officials, it appears we will see a very high turnout. According to the Montana Secretary of State, 357,957 voters requested absentee ballots, the termination Montana election officials use to describe pre-election voting, and, as of yesterday, 259,312 ballots have been returned and are ready for processing.
Because Montana is in the unique position of always having the largest single congressional district or the two smallest – the former since the 1990 census – the state population of 1,042,520 individuals currently yields a total of 699,207 registered voters, far more than any other single-member congressional district.
With just under 260,000 ballots already returned, the total turnout is guaranteed to be at least 37.1 percent even if no one comes to any polling place later today. To put this early participation factor into perspective, the GA-6 primary turnout recorded on April 18 in north Georgia, was a huge 43.6 percent of the registered voters, a marker that will easily be usurped tonight.
While the GA-6 special election will set an all-time congressional race spending record that could reach the $40 million plateau in combined candidate, political party, and outside organization expenditures, the Montana at-large campaign has also attracted more than its share of campaign resources.
The combined Big Sky State candidate and outside entities look to be on course to spend over $17 million, with Democratic nominee Rob Quist raising more than $6 million, Gianforte $4.6 million including a $1.5 influx of cash from the candidate, and $7.1 million from outside groups. Here, the Republican side dominates, as party committees and ideological groups supporting Gianforte have expended approximately $6.3 million as compared to only $800,000 from Democratic organization and allies coming in to back Quist.
The campaign has already almost doubled the spending record for a Montana congressional race. The previous high water mark, just over $9 million in combined expenditures, was set in the 2014 open race between former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) and Democratic nominee John Lewis. The seat is now vacant because Zinke was appointed US Interior Secretary.