Democrats win control of Senate by taking Virginia

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The Independent US

The resurgent Democrats formally grasped their vaunted double crown last night, retaking control from the Republicans of not just one but of both houses of the United States Congress, as George Allen, the incumbent Republican in the breathtakingly close Virginia Senate race, publicly conceded defeat.

By surrendering to his Democrat opponent, Jim Webb, in spite of his razor-thin margin, Mr Allen has spared Virginia, and the country, what could have been days or possibly even weeks of anxious re-examination of ballot sheets, a possible recount and a likely blizzard of legal challenges and suits from the Republican and Democrats.

He also handed the Democrats the sweetest possible prize: that of conquering the Senate as well as the House of Representatives. With the support of two independents, including Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party will have a one-seat majority in the Senate, opening a new era of split government in Washington.

Mr Allen, who was once considered one of the brightest new stars of the Republican party, noted the extreme closeness of the result from voting on Tuesday, describing himself and Mr Webb as two "forty-niners". He won 49.25 per cent of the vote, he said, compared to 49.55 per cent for his opponent.

"The people of Virginia have spoken and I respect their decision," Mr Allen, his wife Susan at his side, told a small group of his supporters in Richmond. "The bible teaches us that there is a time and place for everything and today I have called Jim Webb and his team and congratulated him on their victory."

With such a minuscule margin separating him from Mr Webb, estimated at roughly 7,200 votes, electoral workers across the state were still in process of inspecting or canvassing ballot receipts in every district as Mr Allen spoke, searching for possible inconsistencies or mathematical errors.

Mr Allen acknowledged that under Virginia law he would have been entitled to have waited until the completion of the canvassing before a deadline of next Tuesday, and theoretically then pursuing the fight with a formal recount.

Any recount would not have even started before 28 November.

He said that he recognised that recount could drag on all the way to Christmas. "I do not wish to cause more rancour by protracted litigation that would not, in my judgement, alter the results," Mr Allen said. "I see no good purpose in continuous and needlessly spending money and causing more animosity."

The Democrats have been the minority in the Senate since 2002. More importantly, it has been 12 years since the party held control of both sides of Congress.

Charles Schumer, the senior New York Senator, joined colleagues in jubilant celebrations on Capitol Hill. He predicted that Congress would remain with his party for at least a generation. But he added: "The hard work has only just begun. Our joy today will vanish if we can't produce for the american people."

Until only a few weeks ago, Mr Allen had been widely expected to cruise to a comfortable re-election victory in Virginia and thereafter he had been seen as a candidate who could possibly have run for his party's presidential nomination in 2008.

His campaign nose-dived after he was recorded on video attaching what some considered a racial slur to one of his opponent's campaign workers. It seems his career is now in tatters.

In turn, the senator tried to make mud stick to Mr Webb, accusing him of sexism by opposing giving women a combat role in the military two decades ago, and also highlighting sexual passages in novels written by the Democrat.

Meanwhile, in Montana, the Republican incumbent Conrad Burns conceded defeat in his Senate vote to the challenger John Tester.