By Agence France-Presse
The top Republican in the US Congress demanded an apology Thursday from the party’s candidate in a high-stakes special election in Montana, who stands accused of assaulting a reporter on the eve of the vote.
Greg Gianforte — a wealthy businessman who had been expected to comfortably win Thursday’s contest until recent weeks — faces up to six months in county jail and a $500 fine if convicted of misdemeanor assault against a journalist from the British newspaper The Guardian.
The race was already being watched as a political bellwether, with Republicans concerned about possible cracks in support for President Donald Trump after his crisis-ridden first four months in office.
The Wednesday clash, caught on an audio recording, has mushroomed into a major headache for Trump’s party just as Montanans troop to the polls to replace a Republican who vacated the seat to join the president’s cabinet.
“I think he should apologize,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said when asked about Gianforte’s confrontation with reporter Ben Jacobs, who says he was “body-slammed,” or violently thrown to the ground.
“That is wrong and should not have happened,” Ryan added.
But he declined to say whether Gianforte would be welcome in Congress should he win the special election.
“I’m going to let the people of Montana decide who they want as their representative,” he said. “That’s not our choice.”
It was unclear just how the fracas might alter the race.
The state’s three main newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte, but a majority of voters had already cast absentee ballots before the altercation, local media reported.
Democrats on the streets of Missoula expressed outrage.
“It is a little shocking to learn that someone who is trying to be our leader behaves in that way,” Montana voter Rachel Pauli, 27, said as she waved anti-Gianforte signs on a bridge over the Clark Fork river.
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