GOP Sen. George Allen has surrendered a whisper-thin lead to challenger James Webb. With more than 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Democrat now leads by just under 3,000 votes. The race is one of three must-holds for the GOP -- including Missouri and Montana -- in order for the party to retain its senate majority. But Democrats may well run the table.
The Allen-Webb race is still a photo-finish with some absentee ballots and scattered precincts still outstanding. If Allen wins outright or by recount, it won't be because he endeared himself to conservative values-voters.
"As a citizen, I didn't notice it if he did," said Marjorie Dannenfelser of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. "As a political strategist, it didn't percolate up to me either."
Instead, the campaign devolved into a melee of mud. From Democratic crowing over Allen's misguided "macaca" remark to Republican revelations that Webb's military suspense novels featured underage and pedophilic sex, Virginia voters endured a down-and-dirty campaign in the closing weeks.
"The campaign was not ideological enough," Dannenfelser said. "It became very personal. It takes a tough stand to change the conversational direction of a campaign and I think Allen tried. But it's an overall national problem: Values issues this year, such as marriage, partial-birth abortion, and late-term abortion, were not brought out as issues that could define a candidate."
Instead, citizens largely led the charge on such issues with 200 ballot initiatives, including referenda on parental notice, traditional marriage, and judicial term limits. Virginia's traditional marriage amendment passed easily, ensuring that same-sex couples cannot marry there and also blocking state lawmakers from creating a status that mimics marriage for homosexual couples.
With voters easily approving the measure, Dannenfelser thought Allen might lead. But the peculiarities of the state's population create, essentially, two states in one. Residents of northern Virginia are largely employed in or around government and are disproportionately Democratic, Dannenfelser said, while the rest of the state is heavily conservative. Election returns reflected the divide with Allen showing well in rural, southern areas and holding his own in the suburbs, while Webb is dominating urban areas and bedroom communities closest to Washington D.C.