Republican multimillionaire Greg Gianforte has won Montana’s only US House seat despite being charged a day earlier with assault after witnesses said he grabbed a Guardian reporter by the neck and threw him to the ground.
Gianforte, a technology entrepreneur, defeated Democrat Rob Quist to continue a two-decade Republican stronghold on the congressional seat.
Democrats had hoped Mr Quist, a musician and first-time candidate, could have capitalised on a wave of activism following President Donald Trump’s election.
Instead, the win reaffirmed Montana’s support for Mr Trump’s young presidency in a conservative-leaning state that voted overwhelmingly for him in November.
Gianforte had been a strong favourite throughout the campaign and that continued even after authorities charged him with assault on Wednesday.
Witnesses said he grabbed Ben Jacobs and slammed him to the ground after being asked about the Republican health care bill.
Gianforte dropped out of sight after he was cited by police and ignored calls on Thursday by national Republicans for him to apologise to the reporter.
He emerged only at his victory celebration on Thursday night, where he said he accepted responsibility for the incident.
“Last night I made a mistake and I took an action I can’t take back and I am not proud of what happened. I should not have responded the way I did and for that I am sorry.”
The last-minute controversy unnerved Republicans, who also faced close calls this year in the traditionally Republican congressional districts in Kansas and Georgia. A run-off election is scheduled for next month in Georgia between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel after Mr Ossoff fell just short of winning outright.
Gianforte showed lukewarm support for Mr Trump during his unsuccessful run for governor in Montana last autumn but did an about-face and turned into an ebullient Trump supporter after he started campaigning for the congressional seat vacated by Republican Ryan Zinke, when he was tapped by Mr Trump to serve as Interior Department secretary.
The theme of the Montana election shifted on Wednesday night when Mr Jacobs walked into Gianforte’s office as he was preparing for an interview with Fox News.
Jacobs began asking about the health care bill passed by the House when the crew and the reporter say Gianforte slammed him to the floor, yelling “Get out of here!”
Gianforte’s campaign issued a statement on Wednesday blaming the incident on Mr Jacobs, but on Thursday night, Gianforte apologised to Jacobs and to the Fox News crew for having to witness the attack.
“I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that I’m sorry, Mr Jacobs.”