Virginia Democrats are aggressively targeting Republican state lawmakers in this year's elections in hopes of breaking the GOP's hold on the General Assembly.

Democrats are challenging 18 Republican delegates in the November elections, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan election tracker, and the party plans to put up candidates in at least 30 districts by the June 11 deadline for parties to pick their nominees.

Republicans, meanwhile, now have just one candidate targeting a sitting Democrat.

Democrats would need to pick up 19 seats to take control of the House of Delegates, a daunting challenge. But they hope that by forcing the Republican Party to spend in many districts, Democrats can find more ways to win.

"If we can take the one advantage that they have, which is financial, and force them to play around the state, it would be huge," said Jody Murphy, Virginia House caucus director.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is pledging $750,000 to fund Democrats challenging five Republicans as part of his national Purple to Blue Project.

So far, Dean has earmarked $300,000 for two Northern Virginia races: Jennifer Boysko, who is challenging Del. Tom Rust, and retired Air Force officer John Bell, who is running against Del. David Ramadan.

"Bring it on," Ramadan said.

Nine of the current Democratic challengers are running in districts in the Washington suburbs. Democrats also hope to compete in all 19 districts currently held by Republicans that Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine won last year.

Virginia Republicans gained nine seats in the 2011 elections and now hold 67 seats in the House of Delegates. But those widespread successes mean the party now has a great deal of additional turf to defend.

Republicans said they will fight to maintain their majority and will be running competitively for eight vacant House seats. The smaller voter turnout typical of non-presidential elections tends to favor Republicans.

Democrats also have a shot at taking back the state Senate, which is now evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Republican Sen. Harry Blevins of Chesapeake this week announced his retirement and Democrats are hoping to win his district. Republicans, though, are confident that Blevins' district is reliably red and that the GOP will hold onto it in a special election.

Republican Del. John Cosgrove has already announced that he's running for Blevins' seat. So far, no Democrat has announced.