The Takeaway, 5-25-17: Greg ‘The Hammer’ Gianforte vs. Rob ‘The Singing Cowboy’ Quist

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Daily Data Point: Greg ‘The Hammer’ Gianforte vs. Rob ‘The Singing Cowboy’ Quist 
by Sean Trende

Here at The Takeaway, we’re dedicated to bringing you the latest polling news, in a brief, accessible format that doesn’t require you to weed through a lot of text.  Every now and again, however, non-polling stories will simply be too good for us to pass up.  Today is one of those days. 

The at-large congressional race in Montana to replace now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was looking a bit too close for comfort; public polling showed a lead for Republican nominee Greg Gianforte of about 10 points over Democratic nominee Rob Quist.  Both candidates had issues; Gianforte is a businessman who had just lost a gubernatorial contest, while Quist is a cowboy musician who had regularly performed at nudist camps and had problems paying both his taxes and his contractors.  Private polling had a closer race, but most people thought the GOP candidate would win. 

Then last night news broke that Gianforte allegedly picked up Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs and threw him to the ground.  The initial reaction is that this should be the end of the road for Gianforte, who was later charged with misdemeanor assault. 

But we’d caution against that reaction.  It isn’t necessarily wrong — we think it could easily prove correct — but there are a few countervailing considerations to be mindful of. First, this is Montana, and it isn’t clear how an assault on a reporter for a British publication will play there. It may be that people will think, to paraphrase “Sling Blade’s" Karl Childers, “some folks just need body slammin’."  (This would certainly be the reaction from some in my home state of Oklahoma.) Second, and perhaps more importantly, Montana opened the early voting window approximately a month ago.  It’s estimated that two-thirds of the votes have already been cast.  That still leaves a substantial pool of persuadable voters, but they will have to make up for any early voters who might have changed their mind when presented with this information.

Regardless, this race was already likely to be closer than the GOP would like.  It almost certainly just became at least somewhat closer.

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