By Michael D. Shear and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 10, 2006; A01
Democrat James Webb, who campaigned for Virginia's U.S. Senate seat by opposing the war in Iraq and calling for economic fairness, yesterday succeeded in his improbable bid to unseat Republican George Allen, giving the Democrats a 51-seat majority and control of both houses of Congress.
Webb's lead over Allen widened yesterday in the post-election vote canvass, and Allen graciously conceded to Webb to make the victory official. A short time later, Virginia's newest senator, who lives in Fairfax County, addressed a giddy crowd of hundreds of supporters in front of the Arlington County Courthouse.
His victory ended two days of suspense over which party would control the Senate. Going into Tuesday's election, the Democrats needed six seats for control, and it was Webb, a former Republican and Reagan administration official, who gave them the sixth seat.
"It is Virginia that turned the Senate blue," Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) told the cheering crowd.
Webb will take his place in a Congress in which Democrats will control both houses for the first time in 12 years.
"Mark Warner began a journey. Tim Kaine added on to it," a triumphant Webb said, referring to the state's back-to-back Democratic governors. "We are going to add on to it even more."
Webb said that Allen called him to concede and that the two former adversaries would have lunch next week. He called the campaign "unnecessarily brutal" and said he would talk to Allen about how they can help stop "the politics of divisiveness, character assassination, distraction."
A decorated former Marine with a son serving in Iraq, Webb wore combat boots throughout the campaign as a symbol of his early criticism of the conflict. Before speaking in Arlington, Webb took off the boots and held them in the air, delighting the crowd. He promised a new approach to the war that he said will lead to a diplomatic solution.
He also said, "We are going to work very hard on issues of economic fairness in a country that has become too divided by class."
Webb will join Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) in the Senate, where he will likely become a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a spokesman against the war with substantial credentials. Warner and Webb are part of a small fraternity, having both served as secretary of the Navy.
Webb, 60, was a Republican for most of his life and for a time served under the godfather of the modern GOP, President Ronald Reagan. But his election to the Senate delivered a final blow to the Republican Party.
"We will begin the process of putting this country back on the track where it needs to be," Webb said at yesterday's rally.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who as chairman of the Senate Democrats' campaign arm helped Webb win the Democratic primary in June and later helped finance the campaign's expensive media barrage, stood by Webb yesterday, beaming as he thanked the newest member for delivering the Senate to the Democrats.
"What color is my tie? What color is my suit? What color is my Senate?" Schumer asked the Arlington crowd, which yelled, "blue!" in response to each question. "We couldn't have taken the Senate without Jim Webb."
Shortly before Webb's speech, Allen humbly conceded defeat, bowing to the electoral reality that he trailed Webb by an insurmountable lead and sparing the country a recount that could have left control of the Senate in limbo for weeks.
"It is with deep respect for the people of Virginia, and to bind factions together for a positive purpose, that I do not wish to cause more rancor by protracted litigation which would, in my judgment, not alter the results," Allen said in a 12-minute speech to supporters at the historic Carlyle House in Old Town Alexandria.
Allen campaign officials had initially put plans into motion to challenge Virginia's election after coming within 0.3 of a percentage point of Webb's lead. But after local election officials spent Wednesday and part of yesterday reviewing the totals as part of a routine post-election canvass, Webb's margin actually grew. Webb had a lead of 8,942 votes last night.
Allen concluded that further reexamination of the 2.3 million ballots in Virginia would not change the outcome. Speaking of the nearly even percentage split of votes in the contest, Allen said, "We have two '49-ers. But one of them has 49.55, and the other has 49.25."
In a speech filled with humility and respect rarely seen on the campaign trail, Allen praised Webb and said he was not bitter about losing. The former governor, 54, hinted that his life in politics is not over despite his stunning defeat to a political newcomer who trailed him by 16 points just 12 weeks ago.
"Sometimes winds -- political or otherwise -- can blow the leaves off branches and even break limbs," said Allen, flanked by his wife, Susan, and Sen. Warner. "But a deep-rooted tree will stand, stay standing, will regrow in the next season. In this season, the people of Virginia, who I always call the owners of the government, they have spoken. And I respect their decision."
Under Virginia law, Allen could have asked for a recount because his Democratic opponent was ahead by less than 1 percentage point. But several Republican sources said Allen received pressure from advisers and GOP colleagues in Washington who believed that little would be gained.
Sources close to Allen said Republicans in Washington were in no mood for a quixotic fight over Allen.
President Bush yesterday extended an olive branch to Democrats, inviting likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, to a private luncheon.
The supporters who gathered yesterday afternoon for Allen and Webb reflected the results.
Before Webb spoke, a dozen supporters milled about on Clarendon Boulevard, near the courthouse, holding signs. Laura Sonnenmark, of the Alexandria section of Fairfax, held a sign that read, "Thanks Jim. We knew you could do it."
She said, "We feel awesome, optimistic -- like we helped the country. To America, Virginia says, 'You're welcome.' "
The several hundred Allen staffers and supporters gathered outside the Carlyle House took the senator's concession hard, with several crying as he spoke in front of the 18th-century building. But most of those interviewed said they agreed with the decision not to pursue a recount.
"For what was best for Virginia and moving forward, he needed to do what he did today," said Anthony Bedell, 38, of Falls Church, who has worked or volunteered for several Allen campaigns. "It's a tough one to swallow, but the senator did the right thing today."
Several supporters commented on the conciliatory tone of Allen's remarks, which included a pledge to assist Webb in his transition. This tone reflected the gracious, congenial manner they have admired in Allen, supporters said. "He had class," said James Glenn, 64, of the Mount Vernon section of Fairfax. "He's a good man."
Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.