It's a record the Republican nominee should be trumpeting, says Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University.
"Romney should be telling the story as a Republican success — that policies on the state level are responsible for the budget surplus and overall the better economic situation," he says. "That's the political message. Whether it has any economic merits is an entirely different matter. Most economists think it's a stretch to attribute better circumstances entirely or even mostly to state government policies."
Despite its sound finances, Virginia is a land of extremes, home to the very poor and very rich.
Five of the nation's top 10 wealthiest counties are in the northern part of the state, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. Among the key reasons: a heavy concentration of college graduates and two-income families, many with good-paying government or contractor jobs.
That diversity spawns two Virginia economies. One is urban-based, dependent on technology and government (including defense) and doing well; the other is more rural with timber, coal and agriculture and higher, even double-digit joblessness, according to Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason.
"It's a harder sell for Romney in more urbanized areas to suggest that he can manage the economy better because it already seems better," Fuller says, noting that in northern Virginia, housing prices are up and about 30,000 jobs have been added in the last year.
Romney, he adds, will have more appeal in conservative, moderate-income areas where "the population is disenchanted with the recovery. These are the people who feel government ought to get out of their lives."
Throughout the state, Romney also has been trying to convince women his economic policies would help them more than Obama's, part of a strategy to cut into the president's strength among female voters. Obama, who has emphasized women's health issues, held a 19-point lead among females in one Virginia poll.
Economic messages still matter despite the state's relatively low unemployment, Rozell says, because people hear the national dialogue and "share the same anxieties and concerns about their own futures."
That's true in Loudoun County. Though this is home to the nation's highest median household income (more than $119,000 a year in the 2011 survey), it's also not immune to struggle.
TALES OF ANXIETY
Molly Lovato and her husband, Paulo, both felt the recession's pinch. She lost her lease on her flower shop at Dulles International Airport; his landscape business lost many middle-income clients.
But, she says, "plenty of people suffered far worse than we did," and business decisions may have contributed to some of their troubles.
A local Obama volunteer, Lovato credits the president with steering the country away from financial disaster. "I think he kept us from sliding into a depression," she says. "I'm really dumbfounded by people who say 'Why didn't he fix this?' and it's 20 minutes later."
She compares reviving the economy to gutting and then rehabbing a home. "It takes a hot minute for everything to unravel," she says, "but to put it back together is really very difficult."
But Anthony Cavallo, who owns the Vintage 50 restaurant in Leesburg, says lingering questions about the economic future hurt business. He closed two restaurants in the last year.
As a small businessman, he doesn't relate to Obama or Romney. "Neither one of them has ever really walked in my shoes," Cavallo adds.
"Romney — he lives up here," he says, lifting his right hand horizontally above his head, sitting in his candlelit restaurant. "He doesn't know me down here ... and I'm middle class. I own a business. I have a home. I can only imagine how disconnected he is from the majority of the people that don't have that."
As for the president, Cavallo believes that while Obama champions poor people, he sometimes shuts out the middle class.