Republican Greg Gianforte declared victory early Friday in Montana's special congressional election, barely a day after he was accused of slamming a journalist to the ground and charged with misdemeanor assault.
Gianforte, 55, a technology entrepreneur, won a bare majority of the vote. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, he had 50 percent of the vote, while the Democrat, Rob Quist, had 44 percent. Libertarian Mark Wicks had 6 percent.
Quist, who is a country singer, conceded the contest for Montana's lone seat in the U.S. House.
"Tonight Montanans are sending a message to the Washington, D.C., establishment," Gianforte told a cheering crowd in Bozeman about 12:45 a.m. ET.
"Last night, I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can’t take back," Gianforte said, addressing the assault charge publicly for the first time. "I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that, I am sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs."
He added: "And I'm sorry to each one of you that we had to go through this. You deserve a congressman who stays out of the limelight and just gets work done."
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Gianforte "was right to apologize for his actions in Wednesday’s incident."
She added: "Tonight’s apology was a good first step toward redemption and I hope Gianforte continues to work toward righting his wrong.”
In his concession speech, first-time candidate Quist described the campaign as "one of the greatest experiences of my life."
Gianforte had been leading Quist and Wicks in opinion polls before Wednesday night, when Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, accused Gianforte of having "body slammed" him at a campaign event.
Gianforte denied the allegation, accusing Jacobs of having been the aggressor. A Fox News Channel crew who witnessed the confrontation backed Jacobs' version of events.
Democrats demanded that Gianforte withdraw from the race for the U.S. House seat left vacant after Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke became President Donald Trump's interior secretary.
But the incident came after an estimated two-thirds of voters had already cast their ballots by mail — and none were allowed to change their votes after news of the confrontation broke.