Hundreds of Northern Virginia Democrats turned out for Rep. Gerry Connolly’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party Friday evening, and their bubbly mood could not be explained by beer alone.

The gloom of 2010, when Republicans seized the House, seemed more and more a memory. With the 2012 election looming, Democrats toasted a steadily improving economy and a president who has regained his footing.

But above all, they savored a feeling of momentum on their side after Republicans pushed their luck with socially conservative legislation that backfired.

“You had the feeling they tried to repeal the 20th century,” state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said, adding that the GOP-dominated Virginia General Assembly alone has played a huge part in motivating Democrats, particularly among women.

Many said they now like their odds that President Obama would again put Virginia in the victory column, and that former governor Timothy Kaine would be on his way to the Capitol.

 “How pumped up are you for this 2012 election?” once and (probably) future gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said to a roaring crowd. “How pumped up are you for Barack Obama to carry Virginia again? And for Tim Kaine to be a U.S. senator?”

When Connolly took the microphone in the cavernous Kena Shrine Temple, he introduced McAuliffe as the commonwealth’s next governor.

“Some Republicans think that 2008 was a fluke, that Virginia lost its head,” Connolly said. But he said Virginia’s shift in presidential elections from a reliably red state toward the blue end of the spectrum was “a permanent trend” that would help Obama.

“I think this country is going to look at the other side, and see [we] have the right guy in the White House,” Connolly said.

The annual event raised money and marked the informal launch of Connolly’s campaign for a third term in Congress. Two years ago, Connolly won by fewer than 1,000 votes amid a powerful backlash that swept many Democrats from office. But the climate has changed, and redistricting may have made his seat a little safer, Democrats said.

Two years ago, Connolly said, some constituents came up to him wagging their fingers in his face and berating Congress for passing President Obama’s health-care overhaul. Many of them helped give the House to the GOP.

“This year, they come up and say, ‘How can you stand it?’” Connolly said in an interview.

He said 1,200 people turned out for the event.

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On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) will be putting on the green.

And he’ll be celebrating the Irish holiday in style, too.

Rep. Gerry Connolly reading to kindergartners at Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Woodbridge. (Sarah Lane)

Friday night’s shindig at the Kena Shriners ballroom in Fairfax will be Connolly’s 18th since the original one, when he launched his campaign for Providence District supervisor.

Serving up corned beef and cabbage and beer — and this being a political event, maybe a bit of blarney — Connolly’s St. Patty’s Day event has outgrown several venues and often draws hundreds of people. Tickets for Friday’s party cost $40 a head.

Two Republicans have lined up to challenge Connolly: Ken Vaughn, a traffic engineer and founder of the tea party group Northern Virginia 912, and retired Col. Chris Perkins.

Connolly already has a nice size pot of gold in his campaign treasury, and his camp expects an easier reelection run than last time. Connolly raised $1 million last year — a time when 2012 candidates for the House and Senate raised the highest total ever in the first half of a non-election year, Reuters reported. He has more than $732,000 in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Connolly, a former chairman of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, won election to the seat vacated by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who retired, in 2008.