Mt. reporter: I was vertical one moment, horizontal the next

The reporter who says he was body-slammed by a Montana congressional candidate described the sudden confrontation on Thursday: “I went from being vertical one moment to being horizontal the next.”

Greg Gianforte, a Republican running in a special election Thursday for an open House seat, was charged overnight with misdemeanor assault after the altercation with Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian who had asked him a question about health care.

Jacobs told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he “never touched or came close to Gianforte.”

“It became, you know, something that turned on a dime into sort of the type of brief encounter I never expected to have with a politician, and one that’s very disappointing for what it means for the press,” Jacobs said.

The Gianforte campaign blamed Jacobs for “aggressive behavior.” But an audio file provided by Jacobs backs up his account of what happened, as do witness accounts from other journalists.

A Fox News team said they saw Gianforte grab Jacobs “by the neck with both hands” and slam him into the ground.

They said they “watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”

Jacobs didn’t say whether he was punched when asked on “GMA” about that account. But he said he “was on the ground at the point, so it was a little bit sudden.”

Alexis Levinson, a reporter for BuzzFeed who said she had a partial view of the altercation, told CNN’s “New Day” that she saw “feet fly in the air” from a nearby office.

“The door to the room was about half open, so I couldn’t see the whole thing,” she said. “I heard the crash. I saw his feet fly in a way that someone’s feet can fly only when they’re ending up on the ground.”

Gianforte is the running for the House seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, who was named President Trump’s interior secretary.

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French election exit estimates: Macron defeats Le Pen

Marine Le Pen says she has called to congratulate French presidential rival Emmanuel Macron after exit estimates projected a heavy defeat for the far-right candidate.

Initial estimates from CNN’s affiliate BFMTV-Elabe suggest Macron is expected to take 65.9% of the vote, while Le Pen is expected to gain 34.1%.

Security was tight across France as voters cast their ballots on Sunday. with the the last polling stations closing at 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET).

Macron cast his ballot in Le Touquet, northern France, while Le Pen voted in Henin-Beaumont.

In the first round two weeks ago, voters rejected representatives of all the traditional mainstream political parties in France. Macron and Le Pen topped an 11-strong field, taking 24% and 21% of the vote respectively.

Eleventh hour hack

The two-round election, which has played out like something of a soap opera, was hit with another scandal at the eleventh hour, when Macron’s campaign announced it had been the target of a “massive and coordinated” hacking operation.

Around 14.5 gigabytes of emails, personal and business documents were posted to the text-sharing site Pastebin just hours before the campaign period came to a close Friday night.

Macron’s party said the hackers had mixed fake documents with authentic ones “to create confusion and misinformation.” It is not clear who was behind the attack.

Whoever wins will look forward to elections to the national assembly in June. Macron, whose party En Marche! is less than a year old, is starting from scratch. If he does not persuade enough voters to back his candidates, he will have to strike deals with other parties in order to push through his legislative agenda.

Le Pen’s Front National has only two members out of 577 in the national assembly.

Macron, a former investment banker, who also served as economy minister under President Francois Hollande, had struggled to connect with voters in the rural and de-industrialized areas of the country.

Le Pen has also battled to broaden her appeal. At the end of last month she announced that she had temporarily stepped down from her position as leader of the Front National.

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Joe Biden back in New Hampshire as Dems already eye 2020

Joe Biden’s return to this early primary state of New Hampshire already has Democrats buzzing: Does he have one more race left in him?

The former vice president is slated to speak at the famous McIntyre-Shaheen dinner Sunday night, in a state that the 74-year-old has come to know well through two unsuccessful presidential campaigns of his own and two more as a running mate.

Biden has hardly shied away from the public spotlight since leaving office over three months ago, after having spent eight years as Obama’s deputy and 36 years as a US senator from Delaware prior to that. And he’s done little in the last 100 days to persuade his supporters that he has completely shut the door to a 2020 presidential run.

“I think I could’ve won,” Biden said last month. “Do I regret not being president? Yes.”

In a visit to his old stomping grounds on Capitol Hill in December, Biden was happy to oblige inquiring reporters.

“Yeah, I am. I’m going to run in 2020,” Biden said when CNN jokingly asked if he planned to run for office again. Pressed on what office he would run for, he responded: “For president. What the hell, man.”

Biden concluded in the lead-up to the 2016 election that he would not run for president for a third time. It was a decision shaped by a devastating personal loss. His son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden — whom Biden has referred to as “his soul” — died in 2015 from brain cancer.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would go on to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. But to the great shock of the political world, she was defeated by Donald Trump on Election Day.

With Trump’s approval rating at a historic low for a new president and the first months of his presidency mired in controversies, Democrats are determined to take back the White House in 2020. If there is a desire for a bench filled with younger up-and-comers, Biden’s name somehow continues to make the rounds.

Biden’s longtime friend and adviser Ted Kaufman said it would be a while before Biden feels the need to make any kind of decision about 2020.

“That’s a long way off. It’ll be a long time before he’ll have to think about that. And a lot will depend on where he is, where the country is, where the party is,” Kaufman, who was appointed to Biden’s Senate seat after his resigned to become vice president, told CNN. “Who knows where this presidency’s going to be after 100 days? It’s pretty daunting to predict where we’ll be 100 days from now, let alone a year from now.”

In February, Biden and his wife, Jill, launched the Biden Foundation, which focuses on a range of issues including cancer research. He is splitting his time between the nation’s capital, Delaware and Pennsylvania, working with separate institutes bearing his name at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware,

“He’s really been frankly just as busy as he was when he was in the White House,” Kaufman said. “He’s a happy warrior.”

One Biden adviser cautioned that his appearance in New Hampshire on Sunday was entirely about his promise to stay involved with the Democratic Party rather than his own political future.

“He said when he left office he was committed to continuing to party build, staying involved in the Democratic party, and this is that,” the adviser said.

But some of Biden’s most ardent political supporters are holding out hope.

Steve Schale, a veteran Democratic strategist based in Florida who was a part of the Draft Biden 2016 effort, believes to this day that Biden could have won if he had jumped into the 2016 race.

“I can make a really compelling argument for why I think after four years of Donald Trump, a guy like Joe Biden will be exactly what the country wants,” Schale said. “If he wants to do it in a couple of years — sign me up!”

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