JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Eric Allen was 18 and voting in his first presidential election when he chose Barack Obama over John McCain. Four years older now and looking for a job, he is just the kind of voter Republican Mitt Romney needs to win - and win big - in northeast Florida's Duval County and take the most coveted of the toss-up states.
"I voted for him last time just to see the change," Allen says of Obama, "and there was no change."
For Lashawn Williams, the excitement she felt from Obama's first run is still there in spite of an economy in the doldrums. The 39-year-old bank employee is volunteering for the re-election campaign - and telling those who are frustrated with the president that the blame is misplaced.
"People say, 'Oh, well, he's in there and he's not changing anything and blah, blah, blah.' But he can't do it by himself," Williams says during her lunch break in downtown Jacksonville. "Everything he's tried to do he's gotten resistance from the Republican Party."
The Obama campaign targeted the Jacksonville area with surprising success in 2008, nearly equaling Republican John McCain in Duval County votes as Obama carried the state. Whether Obama can do as well again may determine if he takes Florida a second time - and with it a second term.
In GOP regions of swing states, Republicans must turn out in huge numbers to overcome Democratic advantages elsewhere. Republican-friendly regions like southeast Ohio and southwest Virginia share northeast Florida's mission of overwhelming Democrats at the polls.
For both campaigns, Florida is one of the keys to winning the White House. It's even more important for Romney, whose paths to Electoral College victory are few without the state's 29 votes. Even though each side has already spent $60 million on TV and radio ads, Republicans are expected to spend even more than Democrats in the campaign's final weeks.
Polling shows a tight race in Florida with Obama slightly ahead in some surveys, making the Democrat's turnout in Duval County essential to his overall strategy.
Sprawling and traditionally conservative, the Jacksonville area went for Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980. After that, Democrats all but conceded Duval County, with its Southern feel and strong military presence. Obama, however, persuaded enough moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats and independents to give his message of hope and change a chance to cancel out the usual Republican advantage there.
The Democratic campaign was more competitive in 2008 in part because it built excitement in Duval County's large black community with voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts to support the nation's first black presidential candidate on a major party ticket.
Duval County has more than 516,000 registered voters out of a total population of about 871,000. The percentage of black residents, 29.8, is nearly double the statewide figure. The campaign will have to keep the same enthusiasm among black voters to keep Duval competitive.