President Obama’s decision to visit Virginia on the first day of his general election campaign shows us what we already knew: The state is crucial to the presidential election.

“Virginia is critically important this year,’’ said Del. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) at a news conference Thursday. “Gone are the days when Virginia was an afterthought that presidential candidates didn’t pay attention to. We are now one of the battleground states and the president recognizes that.”

Obama’s campaign announced late Wednesday that it would officially launch his reelection May 5 with two rallies in Virginia and Ohio. Both events will take place at colleges and continue the president’s focus on young voters. First lady Michelle Obama will join him.

The Virginia event will take place at the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The event is open to the public.

In 2008, Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Virginia in 44 years, but in the years since, Democrats have lost ground.

Obama is no stranger to Virginia, but all of his visits in recent months have been for official business — mostly speeches to talk about the economy.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, expected to be the Republican nominee, has appeared in Virginia a handful of times this cycle, but mostly for private fundraisers.

Most recent polls show Obama with a slight edge over Romney to win Virginia’s 13 crucial electoral votes.

Virginia Republicans quickly criticized Obama after news broke of his visit.

“In less than two weeks, President Obama will bring his failed policies and broken promises to Virginia,’’ Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said in a statement distributed by the Romney campaign. “His policies have taken our country in the wrong direction, and Virginia and the rest of the nation can’t afford four more years of the same.’’

 Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), chairman of Romney’s Virginia campaign, said Romney “is not seeking to divide the American people, but to unite us behind common sense, conservative solutions to the challenges facing our country.’’