RICHMOND, Va. - The Republican Party of Virginia made significant gains last night as voters elected Bob McDonnell as the commonwealth's first Republican governor in eight years, selected University alumnus Ken Cuccinelli as attorney general and re-elected Lt. Governor Bill Bolling. McDonnell secured an early lead in most regions of the state, prompting The Associated Press to declare him the victor at 7:55 p.m., within an hour of the polls closing. "I'm humbled and honored by the honor you have given me tonight," McDonnell said in his victory speech. "I am ready to go to work to serve you and help Virginia for the next four years." Several factors in the state's political climate may have contributed to McDonnell's win, said Isaac Wood, assistant communications director at the Center for Politics and a former Cavalier Daily columnist. "In 2009, there were a lot of advantages for Republicans, who were much more energized," Wood said. "McDonnell [had] a strong, unified campaign with a coherent message." While Virginia continued its recent trend of electing a governor from the party that lost the previous year's presidential race, Wood said this does not mean that the election was simply a barometer of national politics. "National Republicans will try to show that Obama's shine has worn off and voters are willing to elect Republicans," Wood said. "The truth is, though, that the two candidates played at least an equal role as the two parties." It is also true, Wood said, that Obama and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds are not the same person, and they have differed on both policy issues and their decisions about how to run a campaign. With the recession on voters' minds throughout the state, the economy and jobs were "without question" the biggest issue in the election, Wood added. McDonnell's attempts to portray himself as a "jobs governor" gave his campaign a focus that likely resonated with voters. In fact, McDonnell seemed to have more success connecting with voters in general, especially the suburban voters who have become so important to Virginia elections, Wood said. This year's overall lower voter turnout also seemed to favor McDonnell disproportionately. "Creigh Deeds needed the Obama voters from 2008 to turn out at the polls and dedicate their time and energy for his campaign, and he wasn't able to make that connection, and it cost him on election night," Wood said. Even the controversy about McDonnell's graduate thesis - in which he negatively described women and seemed to disparage their potential contributions - may be seen as a missed opportunity for the Deeds campaign. "[Deeds] was never able to turn the negative against Bob McDonnell into a positive for himself and offer voters a compelling reason to cast a ballot for him," Wood said. In his concession speech, Deeds expressed gratitude for the opportunity he had been given to run for the commonwealth's highest position. "This journey through public service has been the adventure and highlight of my life," he said, "and carrying the banner for governor has been the biggest honor I've ever had bestowed upon me." Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Dick Cranwell agreed that this election may be seen as a setback, but noted that it does not define any deep-seated political attitudes. "Last year was one of the highest of the highs; this year is one of the lowest of the lows," he said, "but to extrapolate long-term trends - it's just not there." Democrats, moreover, hope to foster a spirit of bipartisanship as they work with the new administration, Cranwell said. Deeds himself emphasized this need to work together toward common goals, noting that the challenges of the past will not disappear simply because his party did not receive the outcome it wanted. "Just because we didn't get the right result tonight doesn't mean we get to go home and whine," Deeds said. "We've got to keep working and keep fighting, and I'm fighting." McDonnell, meanwhile, conveyed his enthusiasm for the two other Republican candidates who enjoyed success in last night's statewide election. Both Cuccinelli and Bolling agreed that the results may signal what Bolling called "the dawn of a new day" in the commonwealth. "We're coming into office with a mandate from the people of Virginia to alter the course of change ... and keep Virginia free from government control," Cuccinelli said. Former U.S. Senator and University alumnus George Allen expressed a similar sentiment, saying he expects Virginia to be a low-tax, business-friendly state and a source of creative transportation ideas. Deeds emphasized, though, that Jody Wagner and Stephen Shannon - the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively - still have a role to play in the future, along with the greater Virginia Democratic Party. "We lose an election but we don't give up," Deeds said. "We still have fight. We still have spirit. We still have things to say. There's still people who need a voice; we're going to give that voice." McDonnell, for his part, emphasized that there are issues that transcend party politics and said leading Virginia in the coming years will require innovation and cooperation. "Creigh Deeds and I agreed we lived in a great state," McDonnell said. "Deeds was a great public servant ... I look forward to working with him for years to come as he serves in the Virginia Senate." -Bret Vollmer and Virginia Terwilliger contributed to this article.