Democrats thought the midterm-election outcome was pretty sweet when they woke up Wednesday morning with control of the House of Representatives. But this year's election proved to be the gift that kept on giving: On Thursday (November 9), after a bitterly contested race that seemed headed for a lengthy recount, Virginia's Republican Senator George Allen conceded the race to his Democratic rival, Jim Webb, setting the stage for Democrats to take over leadership of the Senate as well.
Saying he did not wish to ask for a recount that could last until Christmas and create more bitterness, a contrite Allen said he knew the time had come to throw in the towel. "Sometimes winds, political or otherwise, can blow the leaves off branches and even break limbs," Allen said. "But a deep-rooted tree will stand ... will stay standing, it will regrow in the next season. In this season, the people of Virginia, who I always call the owners of the government, have spoken. And I respect their decision."
Earlier in the day, three-term Republican Montana Senator Conrad Burns formally conceded his race with Democratic challenger John Tester, putting the Democrats just one vote shy of a majority. Realizing that he was not likely to make up the more than 7,200-vote shortfall to challenger Webb even in a recount, Allen's concession paved the way for Democrats to take control of Congress for the first time in 12 years.
At a speech just moments after Allen's announcement, soft-spoken incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid beamed as he said, "The election's over, it's time for a change." In keeping with the tone set by incoming House Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, Reid called for a spirit of bipartisanship. "It's time for open government, transparency and it's time for results. We believe that this county has spoken loudly and clearly."
Come January, the Democrats will have 49 seats in the Senate, but taking into account two just-elected independents who have said they will caucus with the Dems — Connecticut's Joe Lieberman and Vermont's Bernie Sanders — they will have a 51-vote majority, with the Republicans holding the remaining 49 seats.
The Allen/Webb match had been a brutal one, and the lingering doubt over the outcome helped cement its reputation as the race that will stick in voters' minds as an example of the bitter divisions between the two major parties. Earlier in the campaign, Democrats seized on a verbal gaffe the incumbent made in which he referred to a Webb campaign worker of South Asian-American descent as "Macaca," a term many interpreted as a racial slur. A 1996 photograph featuring Allen — who had also been considered a 2008 presidential hopeful, but whose chances now seem less likely — with the founder of a white-supremacist organization also tainted the candidate.
Allen fought back, though, with a last-minute campaign that accused Webb — who served four years in former President Ronald Reagan's administration — of being sexist, its evidence being sexually themed excerpts from novels Webb had written in the past. Allen's camp also suggested that Webb would raise taxes if elected. The race also included claims of suspected voter intimidation on election day based on suspicious phone calls made to voters, redirecting them away from their assigned polling places, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The outcome in the Senate — which also saw Democrats picking up coveted seats from Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania and Mike DeWine in Ohio — could render President Bush a "lame duck" president. With the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, there's now a better chance their legislation will reach Bush's desk, forcing him to use his veto power. To date, Bush has only vetoed one bill, on stem-cell research. Even with the Senate leadership, though, Democrats will have to hold fast to their pledge of bipartisanship if they want to pass legislation, as 60 votes are needed to do so in the Senate.
Even before the Senate takeover was cemented, Democrats got another unexpected win with the surprise departure of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (see "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Resigns; Bush Taps Successor") on Wednesday. The controversial Rumsfeld, who served longer in the position than any other defense secretary but whose ouster has been called for by a number of prominent Democrats, Republicans and former generals, was praised by President Bush during his announcement of the resignation, during which he announced the nomination of the man who he hopes will succeed Rumsfeld, CIA veteran Robert Gates.
In a separate news conference, Bush took the blame for the midterm debacle, saying, "I'm obviously disappointed with the outcome of the election and, as the head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the responsibility."
Democrats also added to their soon-to-be House majority on Wednesday, winning key races in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. As of press time, CNN reported that the Democrats lead in the House by a 229-196 margin, with 10 seats still undecided.
[This story was originally published at 10:51 pm E.T. on 11.08.2006]