Richmond (CNSNews.com) - A recount is expected in Virginia, where Democratic challenger Jim Webb holds a lead of about 7,800 votes over incumbent Sen. George Allen, the Republican who -- just months ago -- was thought to hold a safe seat.
The outcome of the very close U.S. Senate races in Virginia and Montana will determine which party controls that chamber.
Webb claimed victory Tuesday night, but Republican officials weren't conceding anything. They said Allen was positioned to reclaim the lead.
As of early Wednesday morning, Webb, a former (Republican) U.S. Navy secretary had about 7,800 more votes than Allen did, but absentee ballots were still being counted.
By the 8 a.m. hour, Webb was leading with 1,170,564 votes (49.6 percent) to Allen's 1,162,717 (49.3 percent).
"The recount will last for several weeks," predicted Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. "Virginia law is very clear about how recounts proceed. We all knew this would be a close race."
Allen told his supporters, "This has been an interesting election and the election continues."
Although Republicans have experienced setbacks in Virginia recently, Bolling said he believes the state still leans Republican. He points out, for example, the State House is still controlled by the GOP.
Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is less sure. He sees the state as being more closely divided between the two major parties. As evidence, he points to the last two governor's races, which Democrats have carried.
Nevertheless, Gillespie said he does expect Allen to pull through in the recount and win by a narrow margin.
Allen supporters who gathered Tuesday night in Richmond turned some of their frustration on a hostile news media, which -- they said -- made it difficult for voters to focus on the incumbent senator's record.
"We have not had fair and balanced reporting," said Judi Lynch of Blacksburg. "They [the media] blasted Allen but none of the coverage focused on his record, which is quite good."
Other supporters also pointed to Allen's record as public official, both as governor of Virginia and as senator. Amanda Hall, also of Blacksburg, said Allen was better equipped to handle national security challenges than his opponent.
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