The words from the Associated Press have a pleasing ring of finality: "In a rout once considered almost inconceivable, Democrats won a 51st seat in the Senate and regained total control of Congress after 12 years of near-domination by the Republican Party."
Period. End of sentence. No attribution necessary.
It's not quite as official as all that yet, of course. Virginia hasn't certified its election results. And while Jim Webb has claimed victory, George Allen hasn't conceded it to him. But if a Democratic victory in both houses of Congress once seemed "inconceivable," so too does an Allen comeback at this point. Before calling the race for Webb Wednesday night, AP checked in with election officials in every county in Virginia. About half of them had already completed their legally required canvasses. Almost all of them had counted their absentee votes. And Jim Webb still had about 7,300 more votes than George Allen did.
That might not seem like a lot of votes in a race in which 2.3 million were cast, but it's a whole lot for a candidate to make up after the polls have closed. And really, a 7,300-margin isn't even all that close as far as close elections go. As the Washington Post notes this morning, Webb's margin is more than 13 times as large as the 537-vote victory Katherine Harris ultimately certified for George W. Bush in Florida in 2000 -- and almost three times as many votes were cast in Florida in 2000 than were cast in Virginia Tuesday.
Republicans close to Allen are saying quietly -- but not so quietly that their words don't make it into the newspaper -- that there's probably no way for him to overtake Webb now. If that sounds like pressure on Allen to end this thing, it is. The Republicans don't want another Florida, at least not if "another Florida" this time around means a long, protracted and ugly legal fight that they wind up losing.
Allen seems to be getting the message. An Allen advisor tells the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the senator "wants to see [the election] come to its conclusion." He said that Allen may make an announcement as early as today.