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Va. Escapes Worst Of Recession But New Fears Ahead

Among battleground states, Virginia has one of the lower unemployment rates: 5.9 percent in August. It also has fared better than many others in rebounding from the recession, gaining about two-thirds of 171,000 jobs lost, compared with a national recovery rate of about 45 percent, according to Scott Hoyt of Moody's Analytics.

These days, Virginia is in an enviable position: It ended its fiscal year in June with a $448 million surplus that triggers a 3 percent bonus for state employees.

It's a record the Republican nominee should be trumpeting, says Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University.

"Romney should be telling the story as a Republican success â¿¿ that policies on the state level are responsible for the budget surplus and overall the better economic situation," he says. "That's the political message. Whether it has any economic merits is an entirely different matter. Most economists think it's a stretch to attribute better circumstances entirely or even mostly to state government policies."

Despite its sound finances, Virginia is a land of extremes, home to the very poor and very rich.

Five of the nation's top 10 wealthiest counties are in the northern part of the state, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. Among the key reasons: a heavy concentration of college graduates and two-income families, many with good-paying government or contractor jobs.

That diversity spawns two Virginia economies. One is urban-based, dependent on technology and government (including defense) and doing well; the other is more rural with timber, coal and agriculture and higher, even double-digit joblessness, according to Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason.

"It's a harder sell for Romney in more urbanized areas to suggest that he can manage the economy better because it already seems better," Fuller says, noting that in northern Virginia, housing prices are up and about 30,000 jobs have been added in the last year.

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