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“What we have proven is that the legislature and the entire state government has worked very well over the past four years with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House and both a Democratic and Republican governor,” said Sen. George Barker, Fairfax Democrat, who is locked in a tight race with Republican Miller Baker. “All you have to do is look at the budgets and the legislation that have passed the House of Delegates to see what the laws would be in Virginia.”

Just in the past year, such legislation included banning illegal immigrants from attending public colleges and universities, and supporting a constitutional amendment that would allow federal law to be repealed if two-thirds of the states concur.

Last year, the Republican-led House wanted to cut $700 million from public schools — a proposal headed off by the Democrat-controlled Senate, Mr. Barker said.

“That would have been devastating to schools in Northern Virginia and throughout the commonwealth,” he said. “That’s the type of thing that would be at risk if we have single-party control. We need to protect our schools, not decimate them.”

Fending off the tea party

If Republicans take control of the General Assembly’s upper chamber, controversial legislation cracking down on illegal immigration, restricting abortion and expanding gun rights that routinely die in the Senate could end up on Mr. McDonnell’s desk.

That would present Mr. McDonnell, consistently mentioned as a possible vice-presidential pick, with some tough decisions, said Lowell Feld, founder of the blog Blue Virginia.

“Let’s just say a raft of tea party legislation comes to McDonnell,” he said. “Does he just sign it all? Politically, is that what he wants to do? Or is he going to veto it? Or head it off at the pass?”

Mr. McDonnell also will be attempting to sell lawmakers on his biennial budget, which he will present to the assembly’s finance committees next month against the backdrop of a rocky economic picture. The two-year budget cycle in Virginia presents the governor, who by law cannot serve two consecutive terms, the best chance to build a legacy.

Cliff Schecter, president of the public relations strategy firm Libertas LLC and a longtime Democratic consultant, said his own state of Ohio is a prime example of potential consequences of one-party control. For example, a high-profile ballot measure seeking to overturn a law curbing the collective-bargaining power of public employees — a measure championed by Gov. John Kasich, a Republican — will also be up for a vote on Tuesday.

Wisconsin underwent a historic recall election in August after the GOP approved Gov. Scott Walker’s measure to strip public employees of collective-bargaining rights, though Democrats ultimately failed to gain control of the Senate.

Mr. Schecter said the 2010 Ohio governor’s race soaked up so much of the focus that little was left for other offices, such as the state Senate and state House — both of which help determine state legislative districts.

“That’s going to cost Democrats over the next decade,” he said. “The point is, some of the less sexy races often get forgotten. Look at what happened in the end. They lost the governor’s race, and they lost everything else. And then Virginia’s looking at that now, too. Especially in an off-year election, you need to remind people where Bob McDonnell and Eric Cantor … got their start — what the implications are for people who are going to run for statewide or national office.”

Stay the course

Regardless of the outcome Tuesday, Mr. McDonnell said, he will keep doing what he’s been doing and will address hot-button issues as they arise.

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