On Night Before Election, Montana House Candidate Allegedly Assaults Journalist

May 25, 2017
Originally published on May 26, 2017 2:20 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The special election in Montana for the state's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives took a remarkable turn last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG GIANFORTE: Speak with Shane, please.

BEN JACOBS: But you don't...

GIANFORTE: Just - I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came in here - you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.

SHAPIRO: That is the sound of Republican candidate Greg Gianforte scuffling with a reporter from The Guardian. Before last night, Gianforte was considered the favorite to win. Now he's been charged with misdemeanor assault. Meanwhile, the election is today, and voters around Montana are reacting like this.

JENNY BEVILL: He assaulted a reporter. I mean would you want to vote for that? Who would want to vote for that?

JAMES BAKER: Sometimes I think a lot of reporters get aggressive, and I guess after the heat of a long campaign, people can lose tempers.

KERRI PETITT: Gianforte has professed to be a man of the Bible, and I'm sure he's read the part about turning the other cheek. What he did was not a good example.

DEBBIE WARRINER: No, I think it's a crock of baloney. It's possible it's not even true.

SHAPIRO: Those were Montana voters Jenny Bevill, James Baker, Kerri Petitt and Debbie Warriner.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For more on this, we're joined by NPR's Don Gonyea in Montana. And Don, how much are people talking about this there?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Oh, I mean what else are they talking about? And nobody - nobody I talked to today is ambivalent about this. I'd see people sitting at the diner with the newspaper that has it spread across in a banner at the top of the front page. People I mentioned to it - mentioned it to on the street were all over it. I stopped at some polling places, and everybody knew the deal.

I do want to play one exchange here we're going to let go for a little bit that I had with a voter. This is in Winston, Mont., population 157. I bumped into 66-year-old Wayne Sherlock. He's a retired steelworker. He started by scolding the reporter.

WAYNE SHERLOCK: You just don't do that. It's not the way to treat people.

GONYEA: So...

SHERLOCK: The way the reporter did. He was not respecting that man. And I don't think Gianforte should be in any kind of trouble for that 'cause that's just the way it is and - when you stand up for yourself. And that means that he's not scared to jump in and fight somebody in Washington.

GONYEA: He got a citation, misdemeanor assault.

SHERLOCK: Yeah, so what's that? We've all had that once or twice, haven't we?

GONYEA: I don't know if I have (laughter).

SHERLOCK: I haven't either, but I know there's been a few times I should have had it.

GONYEA: (Laughter) Yeah.

So there's our exchange - revealed a bit too much about myself maybe there.

CORNISH: The thing is, this race has been so closely watched - right? - like all special elections. How are people outside of Montana reacting?

GONYEA: Well, Democrats all over are up in arms. They're calling on Gianforte to drop out. They say he's emulating Donald Trump. On the Republican side, Vice President Mike Pence didn't show up at his only public event where he was supposed to make brief comments before a roundtable. He of course had been here to campaign. House Speaker Paul Ryan did say it's up to Montana voters if this is a person they want to send to Congress, but he didn't let Gianforte off the hook completely. Give a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: Should the gentleman apologize? Yeah, I think he should apologize. I'm - I know he has his own version, and I'm sure he's going to have more to say. But there's no call for this no matter what, under any circumstance.

CORNISH: All right, Don, in the meantime, what should we expect to see tonight after all of this?

GONYEA: It is really hard to say. Certainly it's a turn-off for some voters, as we heard. But it's also, as we heard, a motivator for others - probably didn't change any minds. I think that's fair to say. But it could affect the enthusiasm of some people, make it maybe less likely that somebody wouldn't actually show up to vote today. But also remember; they have mail-in balloting here, mail-in voting. And half the ballots are already in. So those are in the can even before this incident happened.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks so much.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.