updated 10/31/2006 9:48:51 AM ET 2006-10-31T14:48:51

Democrat Jim Webb has a slight lead over Republican Sen. George Allen with a week to go in the key Virginia Senate race that could determine control of the Senate, according to a poll released Tuesday.

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The poll by Opinion Research Corp. was the first to show Webb with an advantage in what has become a bruising and expensive contest in once reliably Republican Virginia.

Among likely voters surveyed, 50 percent favored Webb, a former Republican who served as Navy Secretary in the Reagan administration, while 46 percent favored Allen, and 4 percent were undecided.

Webb's edge is equal to the margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, meaning he can be considered slightly ahead. The result is based on telephone interviews conducted for CNN from Oct. 26-29 among 597 registered Virginia voters who said they were likely to vote.

Tighter race with larger sampling
Among a larger sample of 904 registered Virginia voters, the result was about even, with 48 percent backing Webb, 46 percent for Allen and 5 percent undecided. Independent Gail Parker also is on the ballot. The margin of error for the larger sample was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

While Webb supporters crowed over the results, longtime Allen adviser Christopher J. LaCivita said the poll was skewed because half of it was conducted over the weekend.

"It sure doesn't reflect anything we're seeing," said LaCivita, a national GOP consultant. "Any survey conducted Fridays and Saturdays, everybody knows they're skewed toward Democrats."

A statewide poll conducted Oct. 23 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. also reflected a close race, though Allen led then with 47 percent to 43 percent for. Allen's advantage was equal to the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Allen, running for a second term, had a commanding lead in the polls just three months ago. He drew fire in August, however, for calling a Webb staffer "Macaca," considered a racial slur in some cultures. The latest survey was conducting amid news coverage over Allen's claim that selected sexually explicit passages in some of Webb's war novels are demeaning to women.

As the race has tighten, both parties have poured money into advertising. Last week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent $1.4 million on ads starting last week that portray Webb as insensitive to women, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $1.5 million on ads tying Allen to what, until recently, was unequivocal support for President Bush's handling of the Iraq war.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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