- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

Virginia Sen. George Allen yesterday conceded defeat to Democrat James H. Webb Jr. in his re-election bid, allowing Democrats to take the reins of the U.S. Senate for the first time in many years.

“In this season, the people of Virginia, who I always call the owners of the government, they have spoken, and I respect their decision,” the Republican told supporters gathered in Old Town Alexandria just after calling Mr. Webb to congratulate him.

Mr. Webb unseated Mr. Allen Tuesday by just under 9,000 votes, according to an unofficial count. Mr. Allen, a former governor, noted he is within his legal rights to request a taxpayer-funded recount because the margin is three-tenths of one percent, but declined to do so.

“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,” Mr. Allen said, standing next to Virginia’s senior Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican.

A few hours later in Arlington, Mr. Webb, a former Republican who served as President Reagan’s Navy secretary, pumped his fists in the air in front of thousands of supporters gathered to cheer on the senator-elect at his victory rally.

“I am indebted to you, and I won’t forget my loyalties,” he said as the crowd pushed to shake his hand and thank him for delivering the Senate to the Democrats.

Mr. Allen’s loss — the third consecutive top office lost by state Republicans — leaves the Virginia Republican party in disarray.

“George Allen is the patriarch of the modern Republican party in Virginia,” said Lt. Gov. William T. Bolling, one of several Republicans jockeying to be the new leader. His win last fall buoyed depressed party loyalists after their candidate Jerry W. Kilgore lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Timothy M. Kaine.

Now, conservatives can choose to unite behind former leaders with an anti-tax message — such as James S. Gilmore III, the last Republican chief executive — or centrists such as Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who work with the opposing party. Mr. Davis won re-election Tuesday in a changing and growing Northern Virginia district that favored Mr. Webb.

The party has two years to figure out its message before two major elections — the expected retirement of Mr. Warner from the Senate and the 2009 governor’s race.

The soul-searching elevates Mr. Bolling and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, each of whom wants to be governor, and Mr. Davis, who is interested in being senator.

Mr. McDonnell, a longtime friend of Mr. Allen, praised him for his work eliminating parole in the 1990s as governor and for bringing jobs to Virginia. He said the concession is “an act of honor, character and putting the needs of his beloved Virginia first, attributes that have defined George Allen throughout his public career.”

The anti-tax socially conservative wing of the party has struggled to woo voters in the growing Northern Virginia suburbs, which have voted Democratic in the past three statewide elections.

Mr. Gilmore, who is interested in seeking political office, said Republicans must “control spending” if they want to return to power. “This has been a chronic problem for quite a while,” he said.

Mr. Gilmore would not name a new head of the party, saying it is the ideas that matter, not the personality. “The key is what is important to the people of Virginia and the United States. It is not about us, it is about them,” he said.

But, the Democrats say Republicans need to realize the state has been changing, starting with Gov. Mark Warner’s election in 2001.

“We have a much, much stronger Democratic Party,” Mr. Webb said, standing with Mr. Kaine at his victory rally yesterday. “We have a situation in Virginia where Mark Warner began a journey, Tim Kaine has added onto it, we are going to add onto it even more.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer, sporting a blue tie and blue suit, asked the crowd what color his clothes were. “Blue!” the crowd shouted.

“We could not have taken the Senate without Jim Webb and his steadfastness,” the New York Democrat said.

Mr. Kaine agreed: “It is Virginia that turned the Senate blue.”

Specifically, Northern Virginia delivered Mr. Webb his slim victory, a trend Republicans are noting.

“We need to do something different,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican. “From my standpoint it’s not just Allen’s loss. If you look at the trend, George got the same numbers Jerry Kilgore got in Northern Virginia. A lot of people think it’s Iraq, I think it’s that Northern Virginia is not voting for Republicans.”

If Mr. Allen finds a way to motivate the region’s voters, he might have a political future.

Standing at the finish of a bitter, mudslinging campaign, Mr. Allen took a conciliatory tone and said Virginians haven’t seen the last of him.

Mr. Warner introduced Mr. Allen as one of Virginia’s “favorite sons” and promised their friendship and working relationship would continue, a hint that the senior senator could coronate Mr. Allen to run for his seat in two years, should he retire.

“We live to fight another day for our vision of America’s future,” Mr. Allen said to the crowd, which was larger yesterday than some of his last few rallies combined.

Sobbing staffers and sad-faced supporters gathered around as he made his remarks, and cheered when Mr. Allen said, “come January, not as a senator but as an American citizen, you can count on me” to work on the issues he pushed during the campaign, including energy independence and competitiveness.

Many politicians say negative ads were the death knell to Mr. Allen’s campaign, and Mr. Webb yesterday called on President Bush to tell members of his party to “stop the politics of divisiveness and character assassinations.”

He also noted Mr. Allen was “gracious” in his phone call and that the two men plan to have lunch next week.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman attributed Mr. Allen’s loss to “missteps in the campaign” and “a tough environment” for Republicans this year.

He also said Mr. Allen’s past success played into his downfall. As governor, he brought many technology companies to Virginia, driving population growth among residents who have been voting Democratic in Northern Virginia.

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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