Virginia is one of two states (the other being New Jersey) that holds its elections for governor and other statewide offices in off-off years. Virginia holds its elections the year after the Presidential Election years, and it is sometimes seen as a referendum on national politics. Other than special elections, it is one of the first signs of what directions the wider electorate might be taking.
The 2013 election was very much in this mold, and was widely acknowledged to be so by all the candidates. Rather than being about any specific Virginia-centric issues, the race was acknowledged to be about the overall allegiances of Virginia in national politics. This is especially important because Virginia, once considered to be a solidly Republican state, has voted Democratic in the past two Presidential elections, and is seen as shifting into being more of a mid-Atlantic state than a Southern state, as far as culture and politics go. Virginia is also the home of many government workers, and was impacted heavily by the 2013 Government Shutdown. All of these issues were at play in the campaign between Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Ken Cucinelli, and Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian.
Neither McAuliffe or Cucinelli was very popular, and the race quickly became a battle between who voters disliked least. McAuliffe is the former head of the Democratic National Committee, and is often seen as more of a smoky room type than a charismatic politician. Cucinelli is very stridently conservative, which in a rapidly changing Virginia is no longer an asset. Both candidates called in surrogates, and the campaign quickly became messy. McAuliffee was predicted to win, and on election night he finally did: but with only 48 percent of the vote to Cucinelli's 46, with 7 percent of the vote going to Sarvis.
McAuliffe won the election, and any win is a win. However, being that his win was a 2 point plurality, it can hardly be seen as a mandate. It is also a sign that whatever social and political changes have come to Virginia over the past few years, it is still solidly a swing state.