Bobby Caina Calvan

BOZEMAN, Mont.: A last-minute assault charge against a congressional candidate jolted many people in the nation who were viewing the election Thursday as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s young administration.

Now, it’s become a test of whether a candidate’s behavior is more important than partisan leanings.

Voters were deciding Thursday whether to send Republican candidate Greg Gianforte to Congress after he was charged with assaulting a reporter a day earlier. Polls closed at 8 p.m. local time.

Shaun Scott, a computer science professor at Carroll College in Helena, voted for Gianforte despite the assault charge, saying it was barely a factor in his decision.

“If you have somebody sticking a phone in your face, a mic in your face, over and over, and you don’t know how to deal with the situation, you haven’t really done that, you haven’t dealt with that, I can see where it can ... make you a little angry,” he said.

Like a third of eligible voters in Montana, advertising executive Cailley Tonn of Bozeman had already mailed in her absentee ballot when the melee occurred at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters.

Still, she said, the incident would not have changed her vote for Gianforte. “I was disappointed to see he flew off the handle like that,” she said. But in the end, she added, her choice was about affirming the Republican platform.

Witnesses say Gianforte, a wealthy technology executive, grabbed Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, by the neck on Wednesday and threw him to the ground.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office cited him for misdemeanor assault and he has until June 7 to appear in court.

Gianforte was keeping a low profile Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

He canceled television interviews and did not appear in public even as his supporters readied his victory party.

His campaign has blamed Jacobs, contending he aggressively shoved his phone in the candidate’s face and grabbed Gianforte’s wrist as the Republican tried to move it away. A Fox News crew that witnessed the incident said that didn’t happen.

Montana is an unorthodox state. It backed Trump by 20 percentage points over Hillary Clinton but also re-elected its Democratic governor, who defeated Gianforte in November by 5 percentage points. Voters lean Republican and prefer iconoclasts along with limited government and their right to bear arms.

Gianforte hit upon these themes in the race to replace Montana’s previous congressman, Ryan Zinke, who became Trump’s Interior secretary in March.