Webb Has a Slim Edge Over Allen, But Recount Likely

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Democratic challenger James Webb held a slim lead over Republican Sen. George Allen early today in Virginia's U.S. Senate race, a dramatic and nasty battle that almost certainly will be decided by a recount next month.

With more than 99 percent of the votes tallied by about 2 a.m. today, Webb claimed victory with a lead of about 7,800 votes among the more than 2.3 million cast -- a difference of three-tenths of a percent. Some absentee ballots in Loudoun County, Richmond and Virginia Beach were still being counted in the early morning.

Meanwhile, Virginia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions and returned all the state's incumbents to the U.S. House. Republicans won in two local elections in Prince William County.

Webb captured a huge amount of support in Northern Virginia, while Allen was beating him across large swaths of the rest of the state. Those differences confirmed a widening gulf between voters in the Washington suburbs and the rest of the state, which also drove approval of the same-sex marriage amendment over Northern Virginia's opposition.

Shortly after 1 a.m. today, after he took the lead in the count, Webb told supporters at a Tysons Corner hotel: "I'd also like to say the votes are in, and we won. This is a great moment for all of us."

But Allen did not show signs of giving up. In Richmond, Allen emerged after midnight to tell his supporters to "Stay strong for freedom . . . and accuracy in elections will prevail." He said he would call on them in the days ahead.

"This has been an interesting election, and the election continues," he said.

When Webb claimed victory, he did it as a Marine. He came into the Vienna hotel ballroom accompanied by his brother Gary playing the bagpipes, and about a dozen of his Marine buddies emerged from behind the stage. He stood at attention, ramrod straight, as they filed in.

The nail-biter left the candidates in limbo as their campaign advisers began to talk about a recount, which could consume Virginia for weeks and raise doubts about which party will control the U.S. Senate. A recount would seem a fittingly dramatic end to a campaign that was filled with scandals, personal revelations and racial accusations.

"I guess I know how I'll be spending my Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations," joked Jean Jensen, the secretary of the State Board of Elections, who a year ago oversaw a recount that awarded the state attorney general's job to the Republican candidate, Bob McDonnell, who had a 360-vote edge. Gov. Timothy D. Kaine (D) controls the Board of Elections.

Under Virginia law, a margin of less than a half-percent can trigger a recount which the state pays for. A losing candidate can also request -- and pay for -- a recount if the margin is less than 1 percent. As of early Wednesday, the state-financed recount seemed all but certain.

A recount would not officially start until the state board of elections certifies the election-day results, which is scheduled to happen on the fourth Monday in November. Results of a recount may not come until December.

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