RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And I'm Rachel Martin with more details about this tense moment last night at a campaign rally in Montana that turned violent. And now a candidate for Congress has been charged with assault. With us in the studio now, NPR congressional correspondent Geoff Bennett. Hi, Geoff.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: So this is a special election happening in Montana today for this congressional seat, and it's the Republican candidate in this race who's been charged with assaulting a reporter. What more can you tell us about what happened?
BENNETT: So last night, Greg Gianforte, he's the Republican candidate in the Montana special congressional election, he allegedly body-slammed a reporter for The Guardian, a guy named Ben Jacobs. It happened at a campaign event. Jacobs posted audio of the incident. And as you listen, you can hear Gianforte just erupt as Jacobs tries to ask him for his reaction to the new Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Republican health care bill.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GREG GIANFORTE: He'll talk to you about that later.
BEN JACOBS: Yeah, but there's not going to be time. I'm just curious (unintelligible).
GIANFORTE: OK, speak with Shane, please.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHUFFLING)
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.
MARTIN: Wow. That - that changed real quick, got very intense very quickly. Has Gianforte's campaign responded in any way to this? Have they given an explanation for their candidate's behavior?
BENNETT: Well, almost immediately after it happened, Gianforte's campaign put out a statement blaming Jacobs, accusing Jacobs of assaulting Gianforte. The campaign spokesman said that Jacobs grabbed Gianforte's wrist and spun away and that was how they both ended up on the ground. But the campaign's account is contradicted by the audio recording and by a statement provided by a Fox News TV crew that was in the room and saw this whole thing unfold firsthand. A Fox News reporter says she witnessed Gianforte grab Jacobs by the neck with both hands, slam him to the ground and after that, punch him.
MARTIN: Wow. So now Gianforte has been charged with assault. This happened on the eve of the vote. So the election's happening today. Is it likely to swing it in any direction?
BENNETT: Probably not. It certainly complicates things for Gianforte. Three - at least three major papers have rescinded their endorsements. But Montana has an early voting tradition, and most of the ballots, some two-thirds of the ballots, have already been submitted. But the reason, we should say, this race is getting so much attention, so much outside money, such, you know, high-profile surrogates on both sides, is that this is the first race with national implications since the House passed its health care bill. It's also in some ways viewed as a referendum on President Trump. So Republicans see a win in Montana as a way to push back against the prospect of a 2018 wave for Democrats.
MARTIN: And - which is why Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, a British paper, was there in the first place.
BENNETT: That's right, and our own Don Gonyea. We've had reporters there as well covering this race because it is important, as we've said.
MARTIN: NPR's Geoff Bennett. He covers Congress for us. Thanks so much for being here, Geoff.
BENNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.