Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Sources: Turnout in Virginia may reach historic levels
RICHMOND, Virginia (CNN) -- After months of acrimony, there is finally something the campaigns of Republican Sen. George Allen and Democratic challenger Jim Webb can agree on: Turnout in the hotly-contested Virginia Senate race may reach historic proportions for a midterm election in the Commonwealth.
Sources in both camps tell CNN they are getting reports of record turnout approaching presidential election-year levels from Fairfax County (Webb turf) to southwestern portions of the state (Allen territory).
There has also been a sharp increase in absentee ballots, according to the Virginia Board of Elections. During the last midterm election year in 2002, there were 44,000 ballots cast. This year, 131,000 absentee ballots have been requested.
The only question now, of course, is who will benefit in this bitter race marked by allegations of racism against Allen and charges of sexism against Webb.
The Webb camp is hoping the heavy turnout has been driven by a combination of Allen's self-inflicted wounds, the incumbent's ties to the White House in a "change" election, as well well as the war in Iraq. Webb is a Vietnam veteran who wears the combat boots of his son, who's serving in Iraq, and has called for a new direction.
The Allen camp is banking on the high turnout being driven by conservatives who show up to vote for a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that's also on the ballot.
But Allen only drew 250 supporters to his final rally on Monday night in Richmond, while Webb packed downtown Alexandria with up to 6,000 people the same evening thanks to a visit from former President Bil Clinton.
A senior Republican in the Allen camp told CNN that it was frankly unclear in the final hours whether the Senator could eke out a victory. But a second senior Republican in the Allen camp insisted the team was "very confident" of a win -- though this official acknowledged that it would be extremely tight.
Win or lose, Allen's star in the Republican constellation has faded considerably. Just a few months ago, he was considered a formidable contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. But after referring to a Webb supporter as "Macaca," which was perceived to be a racial slur that the Senator apologized for, Allen has been completely focused on trying to salvage what was once considered a safe Republican seat in the Senate.
--CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry
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