Showdown in the Sunshine State

Florida, as always, will play a pivotal role in presidential campaign.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are dueling ferociously in Florida, the biggest prize in a handful of 10 battleground states that remain competitive and will in all likelihood decide the race for the White House.

A new wave of polling suggests that the race is statistically tied here with Romney enjoying some momentum based on his strong performance in the debate with Obama last week.

One important development in the past few days is that Romney has started to talk more openly about his commitment to serving his community and helping others in an effort to increase his likability.

[READ: Romney Readies a Sprint to the Finish Line

Obama, for his part, is attacking Romney as a politician with no core convictions who will say or do anything to win the presidency. Obama accuses Romney of running a "dishonest" campaign that distorts Obama's record and flip-flops frequently in order to curry favor with voters.

Obama's campaign is running a barrage of TV ads making these points in an attempt to undermine Romney's overall credibility. Hoping to inflict particular damage among the many seniors who live in the Sunshine State, Obama's forces are emphasizing their argument that Romney's plan for overhauling Medicare would eventually cost seniors a lot more money by shifting to a voucher system.

Romney, who spent last weekend in Florida including stops in St. Petersburg and Apopka, says his plan would not affect any retirees today and would only apply to those who retire well into the future as a way to prevent the system from going broke.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

A new gambit for Romney, both here and in other battleground states, is to talk more personally and emotionally about his values and his private life. For example, Romney tells the story of how he ministered to 14-year-old David Oparowski of Belmont, Mass., who was dying of leukemia. The former Massachusetts governor talks about David's courage and spirituality, and how the boy served as an inspiration for Romney.

Another source of inspiration, Romney says, was Bill Hulse, a graduate school friend who had an accident that left him a quadriplegic and who eventually died. But Hulse found a way to be productive by working to gain public support for spinal injury research, Romney says.

[PHOTOS: The 2012 Presidential Campaign Trail]

Obama won Florida in 2008, partly because of his strong support among Latinos. The number of Hispanic voters in Florida has increased since 2008 from 12 percent of the electorate to 13.5 percent. Both sides are fighting aggressively for the Latino vote.

Romney also held two rallies along the Interstate 4 corridor last weekend. The highway corridor bisects the state and is home to many swing voters.

The state has 29 electoral votes, slightly more than 10 percent of the 270 needed for victory.

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at and on Facebook and Twitter.