In his campaign for Montana’s lone house seat — already attracting an unusual degree of coverage for its possible national implications — Republican Greg Gianforte got a lot more attention than he bargained for Wednesday evening, after he was cited for misdemeanor assault for allegedly “body-slamming” a reporter seeking to interview him.
The reporter, Ben Jacobs of the Guardian, had approached Gianforte seeking a comment on the Congressional Budget Office report on the Republican health care bill.
The 56-year-old Gianforte is in an unexpectedly tight race for the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, who left his post to become Secretary of the Interior in President Trump’s administration.
While Montana is traditionally thought to be a Republican stronghold, Gianforte has maintained only a modest lead in the polls over Democratic candidate Rob Quist, a folksinger and first-time candidate. Trump won Montana by 20 points in November.
Gianforte has received consistent support from the president, who recorded a robocall for him. Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. have both made campaign stops with Gianforte in recent weeks.
While some Montana voters will head to the polls Thursday, most ballots have already been cast. Over two-thirds of those voting did so by mail, and under state law early voters cannot change their choice.
This hasn’t stopped Montana’s three largest newspapers, The Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record, from retracting their endorsements of Gianforte.
Before Wednesday night, Gianforte was best known in political circles for his failed 2016 campaign against Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Gianforte used $5 million of his own money in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Bullock, who wound up winning reelection by four points.
Gianforte’s fortune stems from his success as the founder of the software company RightNow Technologies 20 years ago. He sold RightNow to Oracle in 2012 for a reported $1.5 billion, and his net worth is thought to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Gianforte has invested his money in both political and philanthropic causes. In addition to financing his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, Gianforte has loaned his House campaign over $1 million. He has also contributed over $900,000 in the last 13 years to the Montana Family Foundation, a Christian group that promotes conservative causes in the state.
Through the Gianforte Family Foundation, Gianforte has been an active supporter of Young Earth creationism, a belief that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. He gave over $1 million to the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum in Montana, a facility that teaches visitors that evolution is false.
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