This year, McAuliffe fully supports same-sex marriage. After Republicans nominated Rev. E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor at their state convention last weekend, the Virginia Democratic Party held a conference call – led by openly gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin – to accuse the GOP ticket of representing “the biases of the past.” McAuliffe’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday charging that the gay-rights views of Jackson and GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli were “divisive,” “dangerous” and bad for business.

Gone, in other words, is the conventional Southern Democratic playbook of running away from the national party on culture. Encouraged by last year’s joint victories by Sen. Tim Kaine and President Barack Obama, Democrats argue this is simply The Way We Live Now in Virginia.

Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee said the fundamentals of Virginia’s cultural politics have changed so sharply that it makes sense for the party to trumpet cultural views that appeal to the state’s increasingly urban and diverse population.

“We are not in a defensive posture on cultural issues. Because of how much the state has changed, we can absolutely be in an offensive posture,” said Elleithee, who advised Kaine in his 2012 campaign and McAuliffe in 2009. “I don’t think the other side understands how much Virginia has changed, or they just don’t care.”