Greg Gianforte wins: Republican apologizes to reporter who accused him of assault

Republican Greg Gianforte, who won Montana’s special election Thursday just one day after being charged with assault, used part of his victory speech to apologize to the reporter he confronted.

“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way,” Gianforte told a crowd who came out to celebrate his victory over Democratic rival Rob Quist.

“Last night I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back, and I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I’m sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I am sorry Mr. Ben Jacobs."

It had been unclear if Gianforte's assault charge would impact the race. About a third of eligible voters in Montana had already cast their ballots in early voting, and others said it didn't influence their vote.

Shaun Scott, a computer science professor at Carroll College in Helena, said the assault charge was barely a factor in his decision.

"If you have somebody sticking a phone in your face, a mic in your face, over and over, and you don't know how to deal with the situation, you haven't really done that, you haven't dealt with that, I can see where it can ... make you a little angry," Scott said Thursday.

Gianforte was a strong favorite to defeat Democrat Rob Quist, and that continued even after his incident with Jacobs. Witnesses, including a Fox News crew, said Gianforte grabbed Jacobs and slammed him to the ground, while yelling “Get the hell out of here!” Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian, was grilling Gianforte about the Republican health care bill.

The Republican was cited for misdemeanor assault hours before the polls opened in Montana. He ignored calls by national Republicans to apologize to the reporter before his victory speech.

The win reaffirms Montana’s voters support for Trump. The Democrats are now 0-for-3 in special elections, having lost in Kansas and Georgia districts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.