(photo credit: AP)
US Sen. George Allen conceded defeat Thursday in his reelection bid, sealing the Democrats' takeover of the Senate and concluding a dramatic fall for a one-time top-tier presidential contender.
Allen conceded at an afternoon news conference, saying the "owners of government have spoken and I respect their decision."
"The Bible teaches us there is a time and place for everything, and today I called and congratulated Jim Webb," he said.
Webb, a former Republican and Navy secretary under president Ronald Reagan, claimed victory early Wednesday after election returns showed him with a lead of about 7,200 votes out of 2.37 million ballots cast.
Allen chose not to demand a recount after initial canvassing of the results failed to significantly alter Webb's lead. Virginia has had two statewide recounts in modern history, resulting in changes of only 37 votes last year and 113 votes in 1989.
In the 1989 gubernatorial election, Democrat L. Douglas Wilder's Republican opponent, Marshall Coleman, asked for and received a recount. Wilder was declared the winner by just under 7,000 votes out of 1.8 million cast.
After Republican Sen. Conrad Burns's loss in Montana, the Virginia contest was the last undecided Senate race in the country. Webb's victory tipped the scales, giving the Democrats control of 51 Senate seats and majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1994.
Allen, 54, son of a Hall of Fame football coach, served as governor in the 1990s and was popular for abolishing parole and instituting other conservative reforms. In 2000, he knocked off two-term Democratic Sen. Charles Robb and won plaudits in the Republican Party for what some considered a Reagan-like ability to tout a conservative message in an upbeat manner.
Allen had been expected to cruise to a second term this year and to make a run for the White House in 2008.
In Webb, however, he faced an unconventional challenger. Supporters drafted Webb, a political neophyte, to run because of his early opposition to the Iraq war.
Allen was comfortably ahead in polls until August, when he mockingly referred to a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent as "Macaca," regarded by some as a racial slur. The incident, caught on videotape, became international news. Some former football teammates from the University of Virginia also charged that Allen had commonly used a slur for blacks - something he denied.
During the campaign, Webb, 60, a US Naval Academy graduate and decorated Vietnam War veteran, tried to tie Allen to President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. He also seized the Reagan edge, having served in the former president's administration, and used ads that showed Reagan praising him.
Moving swiftly to establish himself as the winner, Webb began assembling a transition team early Wednesday, shortly after he proclaimed victory.
"The vote's been counted and Jim won," said Webb campaign spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd. Some absentee ballots remained to be counted, she said, but Webb considered it "a formality more than anything else."
Meanwhile, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton celebrated a big win.
For months, Clinton has sidestepped questions about whether she would run for the White House in 2008 by saying she was totally focused on her re-election. She no longer has that excuse.
Fresh off her victory, which saw her carry 59 of New York state's 62 counties, Clinton appears well positioned for a White House run. Will she do it?
As she began a victory lap around the state at a breakfast with New York City firefighters, the former first lady wasn't saying. Clinton said she was just focusing on going back to work next week in Washington.
Independent pollster Lee Miringoff said that while Clinton's latest victory was impressive, it should be kept in perspective. Miringoff said New York was a Democratic state but that the senator would have to convince Democrats elsewhere that she could win a national election.