Montana’s special House election has become the eye of the political hurricane after an altercation between Republican Greg Gianforte and a journalist roiled the already tightening race. 

Polls close at 8 p.m. Mountain Time (10 p.m. Eastern Time) and it’s expected to be a long night to see whether Gianforte or Democrat Rob Quist can pull it out. 

Stay with The Hill on our live blog as we cover all of the last-minute developments and the results as they come in.

That's all she wrote

Updated at 1:25 a.m.

That about does it for us here at The Hill. Your top lines—Gianforte wins by a healthy margin, Democrats did better in the district than they had initially but the margin is a clear disappointment considering all the last-minute buzz about this being competitive. And Gianforte apologized to the reporter with whom he is accused of assaulting. 

Thank you for spending your Thursday evening (early Friday morning) with us. Get some sleep and be sure to come back to The Hill tomorrow morning for comprehensive coverage of the political fallout from the election and all the latest news. 

Quist has ominous warning for Gianforte

Updated at 1:15 a.m.

Rob Quist took the stage shortly after 11 p.m. local time to concede and announce that he had called Gianforte to congratulate him on his win. But he also included a specific warning to Gianforte, who was charged with assault on Wednesday. 

"I talked to him about how important it is to continue to reach out to all Montanans," Quist said.

"Montanans will hold Mr. Gianforte accountable." 

Strong turnout in special election

Updated at 1:05 a.m.

Special elections typically have low turnout, and scheduling this vote the Thursday before a holiday weekend isn't the best time if you are looking to maximize turnout. 

But thanks in no small part to a huge early vote percentage, turnout for this special election is likely to reach or eclipse that of the 2014 midterm election in the state. 

As of 1:05 a.m., The New York Times' vote count has registered about 350,000 votes with 83 percent of precincts reporting. On Election Day in 2014, about 360,000 people cast their ballot. 

Apology time 

Updated at 12:58 a.m.

Gianforte apologized for his conduct during his victory speech, specifically calling out to the journalist with whom he tangled with Wednesday night, Ben Jacobs. 

"Last night, I made a mistake and I took an action that I cant take back—and I'm not proud of what happened," Gianforte said during his victory rally in Bozeman, Mont. shortly before 11 p.m. local time. 
 
"I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I'm sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that, I am sorry Mr. Ben Jacobs."
 
 

It's official

Updated at 12:32 a.m.

Call him future-Congressman Greg Gianforte of Montana. The New York Times and the Associated Press have called the race for Gianforte, giving him the victory despite a stunning final stretch that led to an assault charge against Gianforte. 

The Times has Gianforte up 51 percent to 43 percent with 78 percent of precincts reporting right now, about in line with his lead over the past hour or so. 

Gianforte holding firm

Updated at 12:00 a.m.
 
Both Republicans and Democrats were predicting that the race was within just a few points in the days before the election, with some talk of a potential Quist upset. 
 
But Gianforte's lead remains strong—he's at 50 percent right now with 65 percent of precincts reporting, according to the New York Times. Quist still sits at 44 percent, below where most had predicted him to fall. 
 
For those of you scoring at home, the Libertarian has just under 6 percent. 
 
A Quist victory is appearing increasingly improbable at this point. 

Gianforte hits 50 percent at halfway mark

Updated at 11:45 p.m.

Gianforte has captured 50 percent of the vote, with 49 percent of precincts reporting. He’s continued to grow his lead as more votes roll in.

Quist still lags behind at about 44 percent, and Libertarian Mark Wicks holds onto his 5.8 percent.

The results are reportedly leading to a much happier Gianforte election watch party—remember, just a few hours ago, Republicans were dreading whether a misdemeanor assault charge against their candidate would cost them the seat. 

GOP expands lead

Updated at 11:15 p.m.
 
Gianforte is expanding his lead as the night goes on, according to The New York Times' vote count. 
 
He's leading by a margin of 48.6 percent to Quist's 45.5 percent with 30 percent of precincts reporting. Libertarian Mark Wicks is holding steady at 5.8 percent. 
 
This puts Gianforte in the driver's seat with some promising signs in precinct returns, but there are still a lot of votes left to be counted. 

 

Meanwhile, at the Quist party....

Updated at 11:05 p.m.

Quist might be slightly down in the polls, but no one seems alarmed at his campaign party event.

A band is playing calm music for the crowd in front of a huge backdrop that displays the campaign logo. 

Quist himself is a folk musician who became famous locally.

Quist fighting uphill battle

Updated at 10:57 p.m.
 
Elections analysts are spotting a variety of concerns for Quist despite the tight margin. 

Gianforte pulls ahead

 

Updated at 10:45 p.m.

Gianforte is starting to pull ahead with 22 percent of precincts reporting. While it still remains close — Gianforte is up by about 700 votes — there are some troubling signs for Quist.

Quist is down in Cascade County, which is where Great Falls is located. And he’s down even further in Yellowstone County, where Billings is located. There, the margins are looking more like the vote breakdown from the 2016 presidential race, where Republican Donald Trump won, and less like the gubernatorial race won by the Democrats. 

The Montana Democrat is also not performing well enough in Lewis and Clark County, where Helena is located, though he maintains a small lead there. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock won that county by an almost 2-to-1 margin in last year’s governor race.

Plus, results from the cities typically come in faster than rural counties, which is where Republicans tend to perform better.

While there are still plenty of votes outstanding to make up the gap, these signs are not promising for Democrats looking to steal the red seat. 

A Libertarian wildcard?

Updated at 10:32 p.m. 

Montana is a fiercely independent state, so there should be no surprise that there’s a libertarian candidate in the mix. But the question is, will Libertarian Mark Wicks win enough votes to effect the race?

More often than not, the Libertarian siphons votes away from the Republican. That effect might be a bit understated this go around thanks to Quist’s populist appeal and both sides had been expecting a Libertarian presence in the results.

Right now, the New York Times’ count has Wicks at just under 6 percent with the race neck and neck.

So if Quist wins a close race where Wicks’ votes are the margin of error, that would frustrate Republicans even more.

Quist has lead as early votes trickle in

Updated at 10:15 p.m.

Polls have only been closed for 15 minutes, but early vote totals are already coming in.

With 15 percent of precincts reporting, Quist takes an early lead with almost 6,000 more votes than Gianforte.

But again, we caution that it’s still very early and a lot more votes will be trickling in shortly. The early vote is expected to make up more than half the total of the final tally. 

Counties to watch

Updated at 10:05 p.m.

Montana is a big state, so it could take a while for the results to pour in. But a deeper dive at trends in key counties could provide an early glimpse of how the night is going.

While President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE won the state in 2016 by a 22-point margin, GIanforte lost his own bid for governor on the same ballot to Democrat Steve Bullock by 4 points.

So one big question for Gianforte is can he outperform his 2016 showing in key counties?

Two to watch are Cascade and Lewis and Clark counties—Trump won both of these by healthy margins while Gianforte lost them both in 2016.

Another to watch, first pointed out by ABC’s Ryan Struck: Lake County. The tiny county in northwestern Montana has been an almost perfect bellwether county in the state for two decades.

Read more about the five things to watch tonight. 

Polls are closed

Updated at 10 p.m.

The polls have closed in Montana (although those already in line will still be able to vote), but it’s expected to be a long night. Early vote totals will likely be the first things we see as the results roll in.

Fun fact: The Montana governor’s race last November wasn’t called until 10 a.m. the next day. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who faced Gianforte, ended up winning by 4 points.

Will the altercation cost Gianforte?

Updated at 9:26 p.m.

The altercation between Gianforte and the newspaper reporter has dominated the headlines, but it’s unclear how much of an impact it will have in the race.

Many Montanans vote early since polling places in the expansive, rural state can be far from home or work. As of late Wednesday evening, 260,000 voters had returned their early ballots.

That’s already a 15 percent increase from total early votes cast in the 2014 midterm elections, with more pouring in.

Early votes regularly make up at least 60 percent of the total number of votes cast in the state.

With so much of the vote already in before the altercation, Gianforte’s electoral backlash might be limited.

A crazy 24 hours

Updated at 9:10 p.m. 

Here’s a brief recap about the altercation between Gianforte and a reporter:

Around 7 p.m. EST, Gianforte and The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs engaged in an altercation as Jacobs attempted to ask him a healthcare question.

Police were called and Gianforte was briefly interviewed along with Jacobs and witnesses.

Gianforte’s campaign released a statement contradicting Jacobs’s account of event, saying Jacobs entered the room without permission and “aggressively” put a recorder in front of Gianforte’s face.

Witness accounts and audio published by the Guardian appeared to back up Jacobs’s story. Fox News reporters who witnessed it noted that Gianforte grabbed the reporter’s neck and that Jacobs was never physical with the candidate.

The local sheriff’s office charged Gianforte with a misdemeanor assault late Wednesday night.

'Closer than it should be'

Updated 8:40 p.m.

It’s hard to determine what kind of impact the altercation will have on the race — or if at all — but the Republicans openly acknowledged that this race was always closer than is should be.

Gianforte, once viewed as the clear favorite, started slipping in polls in the final stretch and Quist saw a bounce in momentum especially with Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersCoal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee Gillum to speak at gathering of top Dem donors: report O'Rourke edges out Biden in MoveOn straw poll MORE’s visit to Big Sky Country.

Montana Republicans say Gianforte still has a problem with the base and many of the issues from his 2016 gubernatorial race continued to haunt him this time around.

Both parties believe the race will be within single digits, but Republicans, at least prior to the allegations, remained hopeful that Gianforte could still eke it out.

Read more here about the state of the race

Jacobs speaks

Updated 8:15 p.m.

The Guardian's Ben Jacobs cut a brief video discussing a whirlwind 24 hours that has thrust him into the center of the Montana special election. 

Some highlights from his response. 
 
--"I've asked a lot of politicians a lot of questions. And no one's every body slammed me before."
 
--On accusations levied by some that President Trump's clashes with the media created a climate that contributed here.  "There are issues with how the Trump campaign treated the media. But I covered the Trump campaign for 18 months, I interviewed Donald Trump several times. Donald Trump never physically assaulted me and a lot of this has to come down to basic questions of individual responsibility."
 
--"My glasses, they lived a good life and they've moved onto the great spectacle shop in the sky."
 
 
Dollar Dollar Bill-ings

Updated 7:45 p.m.

Millions of dollars were pumped into the race and TV ads blanketed Big Sky Country in the state’s most expensive election in history.

Courtesy of Issue One, which advocates for campaign finance reform, here’s a quick breakdown of the high-dollar spending and fundraising:

--A total of $17 million has been spent in the race.

--Outside groups spent $6.75 million. The National Republican Congressional Campaign outspent the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in a 5-to-1 ratio. Though the DCCC launched several last-minute ads capitalizing on the audio from the Gianforte altercation.

--Rob Quist raised $6 million, outpacing Gianforte who brought in more than $4 million. The Montana Republican, a millionaire tech entrepreneur, loaned his campaign $1.5 million.

--Outside spending was overwhelming negative—85 percent to be exact.

Will the assault charge matter?

Updated at 6:45 p.m.
 
While the infamous altercation has dominated the news, reports from the ground are mixed as to whether it will change voters' minds. 
 
'The Operator' backs Gianforte
 
Updated at 5:55 p.m.

Former Navy SEAL Rob O'Neil, a Montanan who has written about firing the shot that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, came to Gianforte's defense on cable television this afternoon. Appearing on "The Fox News Specialists," O'Neill needled The Guardian reporter hit by Gianforte a "snowflake."

"What happened in Montana, apparently this snowflake reporter invaded Gianforte's safe space. And we have a saying up there: you mess around, you mess around, you might not be around," O'Neill said. 

"I'm not condoning him for the body slam, I think its' kind of funny based on my history. But you try to mess with it, sometimes you'll get the bull's horns in Montana." 

 

Last minute fundraising pouring in

Updated at 5:35 p.m.

It's been a rough day for Gianforte, but he's apparently received a last-minute infusion of cash. NBC is reporting that his campaign raised more than $100,000 in online donations over the past 24 hours. Most of that came after the news of the altercation between Gianforte and The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. 

Welcome to the jungle

The matchup between Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist has overtaken the headlines in the race’s home stretch. 

The local sheriff slapped Gianforte with an assault charge Wednesday night after what one witness described as him grabbing the neck of The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs and slamming him to the ground. 

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The stunning development has prompted even more attention on the House race that both Republicans and Democrats agreed was tightening before the altercation. 

Democrats are racing to use a victory in Montana as proof of a mounting wave against President Trump while Republicans have sunk millions into the state to push back.