But for all of their public bravado, Sabato suggested Democrats must realize the new challenge they face given their recent track record in the state.
“They’re downtrodden, and that’s what it takes,” he said. “After they’re beaten over the head with a two-by-four three years running, they get the message. They know it's going to be difficult. It will probably be harder.”
Much of the battle will take place in the suburbs and exurbs of Northern Virginia -- Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties -- which have been the site of an ongoing population boom that includes young, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters. Over the next 20 years, about 30 percent of Virginia’s expected population growth will be in those three counties, according to statistics from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
McDonnell won those three counties in his 2009 election, Rexrode said, even though all three had gone for Obama the year earlier. The campaign also targeted Asian-American voters -- who make up 17.5 percent of Fairfax County’s population and 14.7 percent of Loudoun County’s population -- by reaching out to business owners and getting them to put McDonnell posters in their windows.
With the help of the RNC, the party is working to reach out to Hispanic voters, a prominent Northern Virginia population. They hired a Hispanic outreach director to work in the state, a position that didn’t exist four years ago. The Democrats have their own Latino vote director in Virginia and a national structure called Latinos for Obama. They also are reaching out to the Asian-American and Pacific-Islander communities in the state.
Even though Asian-Americans make up only 5.5 percent of the state’s population, any bloc of voters that moves the needle by even half a percentage point could make a difference in the election, said Holsworth, the political analyst.
It’s likely that the Democrats will be able to overtake the Republicans in terms of organization once again. Unhampered by a primary campaign, they already have 15 offices open statewide, with many more coming in the next few weeks. The Republicans have nine, and may replicate the 20 offices they set up during McDonnell’s campaign.
But the real challenge -- especially once Obama for America is no longer funneling vast resources to the state Democratic Party -- will be maintaining the strength that Democrats have manifested in presidential election years.
“In some ways at the state level, I think the Republican Party is better off than the Democratic Party,” Holsworth said.
GMU's Travis said it will take someone who knows Virginia Democrats well to come in and “reconstitute it after Obama.”