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Past Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the state have adjusted their messages for a statewide audience.

L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor, downplayed the issue of abortion during his historic 1989 campaign. Democrat Mark R. Warner played up his support for gun rights to perform well in even traditionally Republican strongholds in the state in 2001.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds’ lost leverage from his position on gun rights, after his opposition to Virginia’s since-repealed one-gun-a-month rule cost him Mr. Wilder’s endorsement in the 2009 race he lost to Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

In recent years, the commonwealth has shifted its favor between the political parties. President Obama became the first Democrat to carry Virginia in consecutive elections since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and both of the state’s U.S. senators are Democrats. But Republicans control the levers of power in Richmond and hold an 8-3 advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state, was among the earliest to predict a sweep for his party this year in the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. He said it was still an open question whether such an outcome would be specific to this year or whether it would be emblematic of a broader political trend.

“Obviously, this year’s different,” he said. “You don’t know whether it’s just the politics of this year or … that there is now a shift where you have to recalculate your strategy on both sides.”

Mr. Sabato said the political winds have changed since Mr. Obama has been elected twice in a row. But he noted that solidly conservative positions from Mr. Cuccinelli have made it easier for Mr. McAuliffe to try to shore up the Democratic base, positing that the middle of the electorate shrinks in low-turnout, off-year elections.

“It’s a product of this particular race and these particular candidates,” he said.