Republicans hope the spate of bad polling numbers after the government shutdown will be ephemeral and voters will shift their focus to other issues. One place where the damage may be more permanent is Virginia.

"The shutdown was transformative in Northern Virginia," says Geoff Garin, a Democratic poll taker. These heavily populated suburbs and exurbs of Washington are home to government workers and employees of companies that have contracts with the federal government.

Virginia has been moving from a reliably Republican, or red, state to a purple or toss-up one, with increasing signs of a more Democratic, or blue, tilt.

The whole of northern Virginia already was leaning Democratic, making the state a battleground over the last decade. Barack Obama carried the state in the last two presidential elections, the first democrat to do since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Both of Virginia's U.S. senators are Democrats; eight of 11 House members, however, are Republicans, and the party also holds the statehouse in Richmond.

A key test is the Nov. 5 governor's race. The Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, a confidant of the Clintons, is a strong favorite over Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a right wing-Republican.

A GUIDE: If McAuliffe, who has his negatives, wins by 5 points or less, chalk it up to the weakness of the Republican candidate. But if he wins by more than 5 points -- and especially if he wins by more than 10 -- it will be interpreted as a harbinger of a once reliably red state turning blue, and perhaps of Republican problems everywhere in 2014.

(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)