Richmond, VA (CBS/AP) - Republican Sen. George Allen conceded defeat in his re-election bid Thursday, sealing the Democrats' takeover of the Senate and concluding a dramatic fall for a man once considered a presidential contender.
Allen's Democratic challenger James Webb claimed victory early Wednesday morning after election returns showed him with a narrow lead.
Webb scheduled a news conference for later Thursday afternoon.
Allen chose not to demand a recount after initial canvassing of Tuesday's results failed to significantly alter Webb's lead of about 7,200 votes out of 2.37 million ballots cast. The results will not be official until they are certified by the State Board of Elections on Nov. 27.
State law allows candidates to request a recount at government expense when the margin of victory is less than half a percentage point. Virginia has had two statewide recounts in modern history, resulting in changes of only 37 votes last year and 113 votes in 1989.
After Republican Sen. Conrad Burns was defeated in Montana, the Virginia contest was the last undecided Senate race in the country. Webb's victory gave the Democrats control of 51 of the 100 Senate seats and majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate for the first time since 1994.
The Senate had teetered at 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans for most of Wednesday, with Virginia hanging in the balance. Webb's victory ended GOP hopes of eking out a 50-50 split, with Vice President Dick Cheney wielding tie-breaking authority.
Allen, 54, son of a famed professional football coach, served as governor in the mid-1990s and was popular for abolishing parole and instituting other conservative reforms. In 2000, he knocked off two-term Democratic senator Charles Robb and won plaudits within the Republican Party for what some considered an ability to tout a conservative message in an upbeat manner.
Allen had been expected to cruise to a second term this year and make a run for the White House in 2008. He was considered a favorite conservative alternative to perceived front-runner Sen. John McCain.
Allen faced an unconventional challenger in Webb — a former Republican who served as Navy secretary under former President Ronald Reagan and who had never before run for political office. Supporters drafted Webb to run because of his early opposition to the Iraq war, but Webb only narrowly won a June primary against a little-known opponent.
While some analysts thought Webb might pose a threat, 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, and Allen never recovered.
The sweep of Congress clears the way for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to become Senate majority leader and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to become the first female Speaker of the House.
Pelosi and President Bush have had a contentious relationship, however both seemed on friendlier terms after a luncheon meeting at the White House Thursday.
"When you win, you have a responsibility to do the best you can for the country," Mr. Bush said, with Vice President Dick Cheney sitting glumly on a couch to his left. "We won't agree on every issue, but we do agree that we love America."
"We both extended the hand of friendship and partnership to solve the problems facing our country," added Pelosi, like the president, eagerly leaning forward in her chair. "We have our differences and we will debate them ... but we will do so in a way that gets results."
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden after meeting with his Cabinet Thursday, Mr. Bush called on all Republicans and Democrats to put the elections behind them and work on the issues facing the country.
Among them is Iraq, and Mr. Bush said he's "open to any idea or suggestion."