Montana special election: Will Gianforte give Democrats a beating?

There’s no upside to having your party’s nominee for a House seat charged with assault literally on the eve of an election, but if you’re straining to find a silver lining for the GOP, here you go. If Gianforte craps the bed tonight and loses one of the safest Republican House seats in the country, the party now has a handy talking point for why it’s not a harbinger of a blue wave in next year’s midterms. It was a freak thing! Gianforte had the race won, he lost his temper with a reporter, the public recoiled, and that’s that. Never mind the fact that pollsters in both parties acknowledged the race was tight even before Bodyslamgate, with one GOP analyst whispering about a margin of as little as two points a few days ago and one local political analyst calling it “close to a toss-up.” If Gianforte had it in the bag before the incident with Ben Jacobs, would Donald Trump have cut a robocall for him and Mike Pence and Trump Jr parachuted into Montana to campaign? The party had to drag him over the finish line in the first place.

For Democrats, Bodyslamgate is all upside. Rob Quist, Gianforte’s opponent, might win outright. If he comes close but falls just short, the left will still take heart from the fact that a red-state stronghold was surprisingly competitive. And if Gianforte, er, body slams Quist and wins in a landslide (as one recent poll suggests is possible), they can retcon the margin into a talking point about how feral Republican voters rewarded Gianforte for his assault on Jacobs. Their consolation prize for a searing defeat will be a juicy “climate of hate” message for their base. They’ll also insist that Quist would have won if not for the enormous number of early votes cast in the election. Some Montanans who already mailed in their ballots for Gianforte do have buyer’s remorse in light of last night’s confrontation:

Since audio of the scuffle surfaced, Montana’s Secretary of State office has been getting calls and questions asking if voters can come in and change their vote. Under Montana law, however, ballots that have mailed in and received by county election administrators are considered votes received and cannot be changed.

Missoula County election administrator Rebecca Connors says she got a dozen phone calls just this morning from voters wanting to change their vote. Had the audio with Jacobs not happened, she would have had zero, Connors told CNN.

On the other hand:

No matter what happens tonight, tomorrow’s hot takes will smell *sniff* oh so sweet. If Quist does win, expect liberals to downplay Gianforte’s eleventh-hour assault charge and instead emphasize the fact that their guy campaigned heavily in opposition to the GOP health-care bill. That bill stands at 57 percent disapproval nationally per a new poll from Quinnipiac. A Fox News poll released yesterday found 54 percent opposed to the bill, with the public split 53/39 when asked if ObamaCare is good or bad for the country. Again, that’s a Fox News poll. If Gianforte goes down, Senate Republicans are going to panic about their next step on health care. The House bill was already mostly dead on arrival in the upper chamber. A Quist victory might finish off.

Polls close at 10 p.m. ET and the count could take awhile, but if you’re up and eager to see if Gianforte pays a price for the body slam heard ’round the political world, Decision Desk HQ will have live results. If Gianforte wins, he’ll serve the next 20 months in Congress. Or maybe the next six months in the state pen. Depends.

Update: Ah, well, here’s a Decision Desk widget so that you can follow along right here.