BOZEMAN, Mont. – Republicans in Atlanta’s northern suburbs can sleep a little bit easier tonight after GOP candidate Greg Gianforte pulled off a solid win here Thursday evening.
After weeks of hand-wringing and a surreal final 36 hours, Gianforte convincingly bested Democrat Rob Quist, a Bernie Sanders-style populist, for Montana's at-large congressional seat, even with a Libertarian candidate in the race.
Thursday’s results in this nationally-watched contest poke holes in Democrats’ argument that an anti-Trump wave is imminent and unavoidable, even in the reddest corners of America. Indeed, Gianforte constantly emphasized his similarities to the president throughout the contest.
Gianforte's win also hands the Republicans some hard-won momentum heading into the final weeks of campaigning roughly 2,000 miles away in Georgia's 6th District.
“Tonight Montanans sent a wake-up call to the Washington, D.C., establishment,” Gianforte told roughly 300 supporters assembled at his victory party at a local hotel. “Montanans said Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi can’t call the shots in Montana. Montanans said we need to drain the swamp. And we have a lot of work to do.”
Some supporters at the party said Gianforte's victory showed Democrats' efforts to take over the House in 2018 would be stonewalled. Others argued that Montana's contest was a strictly local race and that the GOP shouldn't get complacent.
As the clock struck midnight here on Friday, one significant silver lining was beginning to emerge for the Democrats. With three-quarters of precincts reporting, Gianforte was besting Quist by about 8 percentage points. While that’s certainly nothing to scoff at, it represents only about half the margin that Ryan Zinke, his Republican predecessor, won the state by in 2014 and 2016.
Montana was never high on the Democratic Party's target list -- President Trump bested Hillary Clinton here by more than 20 percentage points last fall. But in places like Georgia's 6th District, where Trump only won by about 1.5 percentage points, Thursday's numbers could still be cause for optimism.
Muddying the conversation is Wednesday’s bizarre turn of events here in Bozeman. Gianforte was ultimately cited for misdemeanor assault for allegedly “body-slamming” a reporter. He apologized to the journalist during his acceptance speech Thursday, but what's unclear is how many voters abandoned support or stayed home from the polls because of it. Thousands had already voted early.