Democrat Terry McAuliffe has spent the last three years attempting to shed the image of the "opportunistic carpetbagger" that doomed his 2009 run for Virginia governor and threatened to keep him out of state politics for good.

Though McAuliffe had lived in McLean for nearly two decades when he launched his ill-fated campaign four years ago, he remained a Washington insider to many Virginians living outside the state's northernmost counties. Since his defeat, the former Democratic National Committee chairman has traveled across the state, reintroducing himself to Virginians who wrote him off.

In his comeback, McAuliffe has amassed a strong network of support by building personal relationships with local party officials and business leaders.

"He did not really understand the dynamics of our state and where we are and how we got to where we are," said Del. Mark Sickles, a Fairfax County Democrat who supported Brian Moran in the 2009 primary but is now co-chairman of McAuliffe's campaign. "He'd been a longtime Virginian, but no one really knew it and there wasn't a comfort level with him. He's so much better prepared now on the issues."

In December 2009, just months after finishing behind state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the Democratic primary, he was already meeting with Northern Virginia Democratic business leaders. During the next two years, he was all over the state, from trips in summer of 2010 to Southwest Virginia to tour coal mines and attend the Virginia Chicken Festival, to Arlington in March 2011 for an event with young Democrats.

He also became a major benefactor to Democrats in the run-up to the 2011 General Assembly elections. McAuliffe donated $47,000 to the state party and $64,000 to candidates from around the state and held a fundraiser at his home with President Clinton that netted Senate Democrats $1 million in the days before the election.

It paid off. Even before he officially announced his bid to run in 2013, more than 400 local Democrats pledged support for him in May 2012. And so far no other candidate has emerged to challenge him for the party nomination.

"He's worked extremely hard, and I know that other potential candidates are aware of how much he has invested of his own time and energy during the last four years," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova.

Republicans have worked to keep the criticisms of McAuliffe alive. They rip him for choosing Mississippi, not Virginia, as the site for his electric car business, and for golfing with President Obama.

"The problem is [the criticisms are] true," said Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, McAuliffe's likely opponent in November. "Truth has a funny way of sticking around. He's going to try to have to win despite of his own history."

But McAuliffe insists he can steer the debate to the issues, not where he came from.

"If we want Virginia to be the best place for business," McAuliffe said, "we need leaders who prioritize economic growth and move beyond the ideological issues that are designed to divide us."