By BOB LEWIS
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 3:45 PM
RICHMOND, Va. -- With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, Democrat Jim Webb clung to an excruciatingly small lead and began calling himself Virginia's senator-elect Wednesday, while Republican Sen. George Allen refused to concede defeat.
After GOP Sen. Conrad Burns' loss in Montana, the Virginia contest was the last undecided Senate race in the country. The Democrats were assured of 50 Senate seats, and a victory by Webb would give the party outright control.
With more than 99 percent of all precincts reporting, Webb held a lead of about 6,700 votes over Allen out of nearly 2.4 million cast.
Moving swiftly to establish himself as the winner, Webb began assembling a transition team hours after he proclaimed victory around 1:30 a.m.
"The vote's been counted and Jim won," said campaign spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd. Some absentee ballots remained to be counted, she said, but Webb considers it "a formality more than anything else."
Allen's campaign, however, said the senator would wait for the completion of a full canvass _ that is, a recheck of the numbers by local election officials. By law, it must be done by next Tuesday.
Lee E. Goodman, chief counsel for the Republican Party of Virginia, said the senator had not decided whether to ask for a recount.
There are no automatic recounts in Virginia, but state law allows a candidate who finishes a half-percentage point or less behind to request a recount paid for by state and local governments.
Goodman said the GOP was concerned about a number of glitches involving new touch-screen computer voting machines, including power failures and calibration problems. But he said he knew of no fraud.
Webb was with family and military buddies on Wednesday and did not plan any public appearances.
A 60-year-old Naval Academy graduate, novelist and decorated Vietnam veteran who served as Navy secretary under President Reagan, Webb bitterly opposed the war in Iraq and switched to the Democratic Party. He tried to tie Allen to President Bush and the war.
Allen, the 54-year-old son of a Hall of Fame coach of the Washington Redskins, is a former governor once popular for abolishing parole, and he had once been expected to cruise to a second term this year as a warmup for a run for the White House in 2008.
Then in August, he mockingly referred to a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent as "Macaca," regarded by some as a racial slur. Allen was also accused of fumbling his response when it became known that his mother's family was Jewish. Allen was raised Christian. And some former football teammates from the University of Virginia charged that Allen had commonly used a slur for blacks _ something he denied.
Allen battled back, accusing Webb of denigrating women in a 1979 magazine article decrying the admission of women to the Naval Academy. Allen also tried to portray sexual descriptions in Webb's six best-selling war novels as demeaning to women.
The State Board of Elections is set to meet on Nov. 27 to certify the results of the statewide canvass. Allen would have 10 days after that to go to court to ask for a recount, which would be overseen by three judges.
But Allen "hasn't made a decision to litigate this at all," Goodman said.
On Wednesday, local party chairmen and attorneys watched local election boards across the state as they conducted the canvass.
"These canvasses often turn up mathematical mistakes and tabulation errors, juxtaposition of numbers, numbers being written in the wrong columns and attributed to the wrong candidate, and the canvasses correct those mistakes," said former Republican national chairman Ed Gillespie, an Allen campaign adviser.
Already, he said, the canvass in Stafford County moved 1,500 votes from Webb to Allen.
In the 1989 gubernatorial election, Democrat L. Douglas Wilder's GOP 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.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Barakat in McLean contributed to this report.