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While polls show Virginians largely approve of the legislature and their lawmakers, expectations are still high for Republicans to perform in a swing state where political fortunes can turn at the drop of a hat.

After Mr. Obama’s historic victory in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to carry the state in more than 40 years, Democrats were hopeful that the transient-rich “purple” state would permanently shift to “blue.” But Mr. McDonnell led a sweep of all three statewide elected offices in 2009, followed by Republicans in 2010 knocking off three incumbent Democratic congressmen, including 28-year incumbent Rick Boucher, and coming within 1,000 votes of taking a fourth.

Mr. McDonnell said as much the day after the 2011 elections when Republicans asserted their power, pledging to work across the aisle as he has during his first two years in office, but that the GOP would shoulder the blame for any pitfalls that may come.

“I’m asking Republicans: Don’t be arrogant, don’t overreach, don’t fight,” he said. “And I’m asking the Democrats, don’t be angry, don’t be petty and political. Work together.”