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When President Obama captured the White House nearly a year ago, his victory in Virginia was, for many Democrats, one of the most heartening moments of the night.
He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win this state since 1964, assembling a coalition — independent voters, economically distressed rural Democrats and blacks — that his party saw as evidence that it could take and hold Republican-leaning areas across the nation.
But things are different today. At a time when Mr. Obama’s national approval ratings have declined, a Democratic candidate for governor, R. Creigh Deeds, is struggling to keep Virginia in the Democratic column.
The strong sentiment against George W. Bush that reverberated throughout this state one year ago has dissipated; Mr. Obama’s policies have become a flash point for Mr. Deeds’s Republican opponent, Robert F. McDonnell, who has used it to draw independents to his camp.
There are two big elections in 2009 — the contest for governor here and one in New Jersey where Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, is struggling to survive in a spirited three-way race.
Off-year elections are prone to overinterpretation, and governor’s races tend to be determined by the quality of the candidates and local issues rather than national politics; overcrowded highways are the biggest topic this year in Virginia.
For all that, Virginia, a laboratory for many of the ways Mr. Obama tried to change the ideological appeal and tactics of his party, is looming as an early if imprecise test of this president and his policies.