Democrats are unlikely to replicate McAuliffe’s massive spending advantage in other contests next year. Outside Republican groups are expected to play an active role in closing any financial gap, while a targeted Senate Republican like Mitch McConnell is sitting on a multi-million dollar warchest.

Meanwhile, the tea party-led shutdown in October was a unique crisis that couldn’t have come at a worse time for Cuccinelli, who was trying to moderate his conservative image. He was entering the final month of the race down in the polls — but not yet out.

But with over one-quarter of the Virginia electorate working for the federal government, according to this week’s Washington Post poll, the backlash helped McAuliffe expand his lead. The poll showed McAuliffe with a 12-point lead overall, 69 percent of voters said that the shutdown was an “important” factor in their vote. Of the 55 percent who rated it as “very important” to their vote, they back McAuliffe by a two-to-one margin.

“I don’t know that the outcome would be any different without the government shutdown, but it was a close race without it,” said one national Republican operative who has tracked the race.

The shutdown fight also overshadowed the difficulties Democrats have had in implementing President Obama’s health care law, which Cuccinelli fought aggressively as state attorney general.