We won't know for maybe another 12 hours (as I'm writing this) who wins the special election in Montana to fill the congressional seat vacated when Ryan Zinke was tapped by President Trump to be Interior Secretary.
Prior to last night, the race was considered a toss-up, but one that the Republican would have been expected to win in ordinary circumstances. But the unpopularity of Donald Trump and the Republican Congress make it less certain.
Then last night, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault on a newspaper reporter who was just trying to ask him a question about the newly released CBO scoring of the Republican health care bill. Gianforte began yelling at him to "'Get the hell out of here!" Then, according to eyewitnesses, a FoxNews TV crew in the room, Gianforte grabbed the reporter with both hands around his neck, threw him to the floor, and began punching him.
The sheriff said that, because the reporter's injuries were not severe enough to meet criteria for a felony charge, it had to be "misdemeanor assault."
The charge is less important than the political effect on today's election. Several newspapers and other organizations have rescinded their previous endorsements of Gianforte. Ordinarily, we would expect that this would mean the loss of the election for him.
However, Montanans use mail-in-balloting more than most states do. It's estimated that as many as two-thirds may have already voted before this incident took place. Democrats have launched an emergency appeal for a get-out-the-vote campaign, even soliciting people as far away as me, sitting here in Atlanta, to help make phone calls.
This is the perfect example of the down side of all forms of early voting. It's that sudden news, after you've voted, that would change your vote. On the other hand, as the Jon Ossoff campaign, which is vigorously promoting early voting, has pointed out: Once the campaign knows you have voted, they can stop utilizing time and resources on trying to get you to vote. If half voters do it early, they have only half as many to focus on on election day.