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Voters and elections officials are having a flashback to the 2000 presidential election, when courts decided George W. Bush was the victor, with a recount being set up to decide the U.S. Senate race in Virginia and ultimately control of the chamber.

With 99.88 percent of the precincts reporting, that would be 2,440 out of 2,443, James Webb Jr. has 1,172,595 votes, or 49.55 percent of the total, while Republican George Allen has 1,165,309, for 49.24 percent.

Recounts in Virginia are not automatic, officials said, but it’s a virtual certainty with a difference of only one-third of a percentage point, meaning a swing of one-sixth of 1 percent would change the outcome.

Republican-turned-Democrat challenger James Webb was claiming victory, with the words, “The votes are in.”

But both parties had assembled teams to monitor and intervene – as necessary, of course – in the recount, with anticipation the process could stretch out for weeks.

Allen told his supporters to watch.

“The counting will continue through the night and will continue tomorrow, and I know you will all be like eagles and hawks watching as every one of these votes are counted,” Allen said.

Allen is a former governor and was expected to have an easy victory, possibly as a warmup for a presidential run in 2008. But in August during a campaign stop, Allen pointed out S.R. Sidarth, a Webb campaign volunteer monitoring Allen’s work, and introduced him as “macaca,” which was interpreted as an obscure racial slur.

The candidate later apologized to Sidarth but not until the comment had already generated reactions. He later accused a reporter of “making aspersions” about his religion by asking if his mother was Jewish.

Allen was raised in a Christian home and said his mother only told him about his grandparents’ Jewish history in August. Then some former football teammates at the University of Virginia accused him of using an epithet against blacks.

“You’re heard me say … the world is controlled by those who show up,” Allen told his supporters. “The point of the matter is, we’re still counting votes.”

Webb had served as Navy secretary under Reagan but opposed the war in Iraq and switched to the Democratic Party to challenge Allen.

The impact of the Virginia decision was set up when Democrat Jon Tester declared victory over Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana, giving the Republicans 49 Senate seats, the Democrats 48, and independents, who will caucus with Democrats, two.

Should Virginia then go to the Republicans, they would have 50 seats, and a vice president who could cast the deciding vote in a tie. Democrats would have control with 49 seats plus their independent cohorts, should Virginia elect Webb.

Both parties had dispatched lawyers to observe the counting of absentee ballots and follow any recount procedures.

Earlier, Democrat Claire McCaskill claimed a come-from-behind U.S. Senate victory over Republican Jim Talent in Missouri to move the Democrats a step closer to taking control of the U.S. Senate.

Republican Bob Corker had captured the up-for-grabs seat from Tennessee over Democrat Harold Ford, delaying at least temporarily that Democratic move.

Democrats had defeated Republicans in key U.S. Senate races in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Ohio as the early results arrived, giving hopes for a blowout victory.

Whatever the shift of power, or lack thereof, Sen. John McCain said Republicans were looking to return to their base.

“Less government, lower taxes, be more careful stewards, stop this profligate spending,” he said would be the goals. “We’ve got to get back to our conservative folks.”

In Pennsylvania, Republican Rick Santorum, a man long known as a “compassionate conservative” and a champion of “values” causes in the Senate, fell to Democrat Bob Casey Jr., who had collected the endorsements of a dozen of the state’s bigger newspapers.

Santorum had served two terms in the Senate, but was unable to overcome a Casey campaign that alleged the government is hostile to workers because productivity was up 18 percent but wages were down.

And the Herald Standard said Santorum already should have solved the problems of North Korea and Iran.

Democrat Sherrod Brown defeated incumbent Republican Mike DeWine in Ohio in a race that would move Brown from one division of Congress to another.

Brown is a seven-term congressman who was endorsed by the Toledo Blade as having the experience to get things done in Washington. DeWine’s experience, however, was viewed by the newspaper as being a “loyal vote” for President Bush’s policies.

And Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island.

In Florida, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, the state’s election official during the contested presidential ballot count of 2000, lost a long-shot attempt at defeating incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.

“Thank you for the continued privilege of public service,” Nelson told supporters in Orlando.

Harris served two terms in the U.S. House but she had little party support during her campaign. She told voters that “separation of church and state” wasn’t correct and a group of Baptists that if they didn’t elect Christians, then “in essence you’re going to legislate sin.”

In Arizona, incumbent Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican, defeated Jim Pederson, a Democrat.

Connecticut went with Joe Lieberman, who turned independent when he was defeated in the Democratic primary, but kept his Senate seat. He called his election “an opportunity to make a difference for six more years.”

Veteran Republicans earned victory in Indiana, where Richard Lugar was victorious; Maine, where Olympia Snowe won; in Mississippi, Trent Lott’s home; in Texas, with Kay Bailey Hutchinson; and Utah, with Orrin Hatch victorious. Wyoming’s Craig Thomas also won, even though he had been hospitalized with pneumonia. And John Ensign won the seat from Nevada.

Democrats won with retiring Sen. Mark Dayton being replaced by another Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, in Minnesota, with Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, Robert Byrd in West Virginia and Hillary Clinton in New York.

Also Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez defeated Republican Tom Kean Jr. in New Jersey, Rep. Ben Cardin beat Republican Michael Steele in Maryland and Democrats kept other Senate seats from Wisconsin, North Dakota, New Mexico, Michigan, Nebraska, Delaware, California, Washington, Hawaii,

Bernie Sanders, an independent, was elected from Vermont.

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