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The Democratic defeat in a hard-fought special House election in Montana on Thursday highlighted the practical limitations on liberal opposition to President Trump and exposed a deepening rift between cautious party leaders, who want to pick their shots in battling for control of Congress in 2018, and more militant grass-roots activists who want to fight the Republicans everywhere.

Republican Greg Gianforte addresses supporters at a hotel ballroom after winning Montana's sole congressional seat, in Bozeman, Mont., Thursday, May 25, 2017.

A race that was expected to be a test of President Donald Trump's political influence ahead of next year's US congressional elections was jolted by the charge against Gianforte, a wealthy technology executive who had urged voters to send him to Congress to help Trump.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Gianforte "was right to apologize for his actions in Wednesday's incident". I listen to the audio of this reporter yelling about his broken glasses; something just didn't feel right.

After a special House election in Georgia in which Democrat Jon Ossoff received more than 48 percent of the vote - almost averting a runoff and demonstrating the extent of voter enthusiasm on the left - Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who is facing reelection next year, called Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, and implored him to consider spending money on Quist in the final weeks of the Montana race, according to two Democratic strategists briefed on the call. He did go on to win the election, though by a smaller margin than projected.

CNN projected Mr Gianforte would win, and with 96 percent of the vote counted, he led Mr Quist by 51 percent to 43. The Republican multimillionaire Gianforte won Montana's only U.S. House seat on Thursday despite being charged a day earlier with assault after witnesses said he grabbed a reporter by the neck and threw him to the ground. The Georgia election was another race where Democrats hoped to pull off a surprise victory, but their candidate fell short of 50 percent in the April primary, forcing a runoff in June.

The last-minute controversy unnerved Republicans, who also faced close calls this year in the traditionally Republican congressional districts in Kansas and Georgia. Mr. Gianforte can claim a measure of democratic legitimacy because the beating happened (barely) before the election.

Gianforte's campaign said the reporter grabbed the candidate's wrist, and that the pair lost their balance, something witnesses dispute. "I will tell you that it's unacceptable behavior - and to say otherwise would be false, obviously". Gianforte reportedly attacked a reporter - Ben Jacobs from The Guardian newspaper - after Jacobs apparently asked him questions in a manner he didn't appreciate.

Afterward, three state newspapers rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte.

The House does have the ability to expel members for other reasons, but a two-thirds majority vote is required. Gianforte should have beaten Jacobs until he couldn't stand, or killed him, others said. "Last night I made a mistake, I took an action that I can't take back".

Grover Norquist, who managed to delude himself about Donald Trump being a fiscal conservative in spite of the evidence facing him with all of the determined loyalty of teenager in love for the first time, is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Quist, who raised more than $6 million for his upstart bid, said the experience gave him insight into the economic struggles some people face.

Gianforte also won dominant victories in most of Montana's rural counties - getting twice as many votes as Quist in many cases.

After the altercation, Gianforte's campaign issued a statement blaming the reporter and the candidate stayed out of sight.

When Jacobs explained the story, but said he was body slammed.

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