Salena Zito

WINCHESTER, Va. – Virginia will be the center of political attention this fall, thanks to the first statewide election in a battleground state since the 2008 presidential election.

“Here we go again,” said Larry Larsen, an independent voter accustomed to the national attention that Virginia races attract.

November’s gubernatorial race matches former state attorney general Bob McDonnell, a Republican, versus state senator Creigh Deeds, a Democrat.

A SurveyUSA poll last week gave McDonnell a 15-point lead. RealClearPolitics shows McDonnell as 6.3 percentage points in the lead, based on aggregate polling data.

“If McDonnell were to win this, the message it sends back to Washington is to slow down,” said John Morrison, a Deeds supporter.

Morrison was busy planning a fundraiser for his candidate last week while taking orders at Piccadilly Print Shop, a business he has owned for more than 25 years.

Larsen, a stockbroker and father of six, leans Republican. His issues, not surprisingly, hinge on the economy: “My income is not what it was last year, and right now it seems that none of the spending solutions are working.”

Both Virginia and New Jersey will hand a report card of sorts to President Obama and the Democrats controlling Congress with their governor’s races this fall. Both are leaning toward Republican wins, but in politics, anything can change.

For about 40 years, since Richard Nixon's 1968 run, Northern Virginia favored Republicans until it began shifting to Democrats in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Located near Washington, D.C., it is home to lots of tech companies and their employees, along with a healthy proportion of people who work in government (and government has been expanding since Obama became president) and who lean left.

The Virginia Beach and Richmond areas also have favored Republicans since Nixon. Unlike their northern cousins, people in those areas have become redder.

Obama's victory in Virginia was hugely related to high black voter turnout, especially in the Virginia Beach area. If that voting bloc does not show up for Deeds, he is in trouble.

It does not help him that the nation’s first elected black governor, Virginia’s Douglas Wilder, is cool to him – so much so that Wilder told the Washington Times last week that Deeds risked becoming a “me too” candidate. Wilder then complimented McDonnell for reaching out to Virginians who don't traditionally vote Republican.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.