RICHMOND, Va. -- In another high-turnout election, Tuesday's contest showed that while the margins ebbed slightly, President Barack Obama's domination of Virginia's population centers in 2008 was not a fluke.
The state's voters handed Obama a 3 percentage point victory as he racked up totals in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and the Richmond area that the GOP could not match in less populated expanses.
"To win twice in a row as a Democrat in Virginia is a historic achievement," Gov. Bob McDonnell told reporters Wednesday.
"This was certainly a setback after three very good years of Republican gains in Virginia," he said. Those gains started in 2009 with the GOP sweep of statewide executive offices and later included the 2010 pickup of three congressional seats and 2011 gains in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates.
McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, noted that the GOP won eight of the state's 11 congressional district contests. But he said on CNN on Wednesday that "overall, we've got work to do up in the Northern Virginia beltway area."
"I was fortunate to do well up there in 2009, but those are the greatest number of independent voters who will vote the issue and vote the person as opposed to the party, and we're losing the exchange up there as you see in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun" counties, he said.
"We've got to do a better job in explaining to people why the conservative view of America is better for them and their pocketbook, and we apparently didn't do it well enough, but we'll get better."
In 2008, Obama came out of Northern Virginia with a lead of 234,000 votes, after sweeping all nine localities, including the large outside-the-beltway counties of Prince William and Loudoun.
On Tuesday, Obama swept the region again, emerging with a lead of about 209,000 votes.
In 2008, Obama emerged from the big four localities in the Richmond area with a net advantage of nearly 43,000 votes, winning Richmond and Henrico County while trailing in Chesterfield and Hanover counties. He repeated the formula Tuesday, coming out of the four localities with a margin of 35,000 votes.
In 2008, Obama had a net advantage of 101,000 votes in Hampton Roads. On Tuesday, he carried the region by a net of 84,000 votes. Each of these regions is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.
Former Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican who represented part of Northern Virginia in Congress from 1995 to 2008, said in a recent interview that Virginia Republicans must recognize that the large suburban localities around Richmond are becoming more like the Washington suburbs.
He said it is not just a function of racial and ethnic diversity. Another factor is the gravitation of young white professionals who are to the left of the Republican Party on social issues, he said.
Statewide, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney carried 61 percent of the white vote, Obama carried 93 percent of the black vote, 64 percent of the Hispanic vote and 66 percent of the Asian vote, according to exit polls reported by The New York Times.
Those trends are a challenge for the Republican Party beyond Virginia.
Nationally, Romney carried 59 percent of the white vote, while Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, 93 percent of the black vote, and 73 percent of the Asian vote, according to exit polls.
McDonnell said the election's voter turnout was about 76 percent in Virginia, which is on par with 2008, when 74.54 percent of the state's voters cast ballots. In 2004, the figure was 71 percent.
Obama's victory here again also seemed to validate Virginia's status as a key swing state.
"Virginia has moved from reliably red to just complete battleground," U.S. Sen.-elect Timothy M. Kaine said on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday morning. "Some people thought the president's win here in 2008 was a fluke, but it's not, as we showed last night -- the president won by about 3 points, I won by about 5."
"The growth of the Northern Virginia suburbs around D.C. has been very helpful, but we're just also seeing Virginians embracing an economy that is quite strong here, they believe in a balanced approach to dealing with the deficit, and especially Virginians want people who can find common ground."
McDonnell told reporters Wednesday that he'll look back on the election and see how the Republican Party can better articulate the "conservative message of an opportunity society" for America.
"We obviously failed to do it in certain constituencies, and I'm a big believer that our policies are right, regardless of your sex or race or social status," he said.
McDonnell said "Republican conservative principles" have worked in Virginia.
"Our challenge now over the next months and heading into the next election is to find out a better way to do that, so that some of these newer voters and minority voters and younger voters who have voted in larger percentages for the Democratic Party, convince them that our ideas are better for them and their family than the other team.
"That's our challenge right now."
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