Virginia Politics Shaped by Population Shifts

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Urbanization created a demand among city and suburban dwellers for more government services such as roads, public safety and public schools, a liberalizing influence on an electorate growing rapidly in the Washington Beltway and Hampton Roads.

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Growth in northern Virginia in many cases exceeded the ability of state and local governments to keep pace with transportation demands, creating permanent highway gridlock that threatens the vitality of the state's economic engine.

Fairfax County, the state's most populous locality, has grown by 142 percent since 1960, from 455,000 people to 1.1 million. Its neighbor, bucolic Loudoun County, saw an eightfold increase, from 37,150 to 325,405 now, with three-fourths of it spiking in the last 20 years. Its rate of growth since 2000 was the fourth-fastest of any county in the nation.

"The center of energy in Virginia shifted increasingly to northern Virginia because of its population growth and its wealth," said Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University in Fairfax County. "Politically, this state is very different from what it was just a generation ago."

While Virginia is a newcomer as a presidential battleground, Democrats and Republicans have been competitive in state races.

Obama won in 2008 in no small measure because of deep voter dismay with lame duck GOP President George W. Bush. That capped an eight-year run of Democratic dominance in which the party won two gubernatorial elections and took both U.S. Senate seats from Republicans.

An occasional look at how and why various states became presidential battlegrounds

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