Montana’s special election day is here, and it arrives with a whole lot of drama.
Just days after Bernie Sanders stumped for Democratic candidate Rob Quist and Vice President Mike Pence recorded a robocall for Republican Greg Gianforte, the fight for the Treasure State’s only House seat made national headlines. Gianforte, a 56-year-old businessman, was charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs at a Wednesday night event.
The race for the congressional seat—previously occupied by Ryan Zinke, who is now the interior secretary—was heated even before the charges were filed. Even though Donald Trump won Montana by roughly 20 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in November, Politico reported that the GOP has become concerned it might lose Thursday’s election, seen as a litmus test of sorts on the Trump presidency.
In times of trouble, we turn to numbers. Here’s what we know from the polls.
RealClearPolitics points to three polls, all from Gravis, conducted in late April, early May and last week. Gianforte was leading in all of three, though the size of his edge varied. In April, Gianforte was polling with 52 percent support to Quist’s 39 percent. By early May, his lead had dropped to eight points, but it recently rebounded to 14.
Other surveys had varying results. For example, an Emerson College poll from April also showed voters preferred Gianforte by a margin 52 to 37 percent. But another poll conducted by the Democratic Senate Majority PAC showed the gap at just six percent, according to Roll Call. And at least one Google Survey poll had Quist ahead.
“I remember talking to people when it first started who said this was a slam dunk, Gianforte’s it. And it’s not there anymore,” Jim Larson, the chairman of Montana’s Democratic Party, told Politico. “It is a lot closer than people ever thought it would be.”
As FiveThirtyEight noted, polls for congressional special elections have a history of being inaccurate, and it’s difficult to predict whether Wednesday’s assault charge will hurt Gianforte with voters on Thursday.
One thing is for sure: Some newspapers are already turning away from him.
“The Republican candidate for Congress not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night when, according to witnesses, he put his hands around the throat of a reporter asking him about his health care stance, threw him to the ground and punched him,” the Missoulian wrote in an editorial. “He should lose the confidence of all Montanans.”