Political Parties Cozy Up to Causes; Groups Are Doing More to Boost Their Profiles with Voters

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

Robert Foster shed his blood for the Republican Party. Literally.

It was a tense scene, a blend of public service and patriotism that had him squirming as fellow Republicans watched, somewhat in awe. They'd even shot video, scored it with Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" and had a hearty laugh enshrining the moment in history by posting it to YouTube.

Foster said he'd never given blood before. The pinch of the needle sort of freaked him out but, as the Jacksonville Young Republicans' political affairs director, he said he felt a duty to participate in a recent GOP-sponsored blood drive.

It was the type of community service effort both major parties are doing to boost their profiles with voters as the 2010 campaign season heats up and the public looks for solutions and change in politics.

In the past week, the local GOP collected 28 pints of blood for the American Red Cross. Duval County's Democrats packed Easter baskets for needy children and hosted a group of Estonian parliamentarians who were in town as part of the International Visitor Corps of Jacksonville program.

Foster said the goal is to humanize the political system at a crucial time, one in which people who have never paid attention to issues like health care reform and government spending have taken passionate positions. He said when the emotions subside and issues cool down, he would like to see the same people remain engaged as voters.

"When you're strictly political, you're only high-profile in campaign season," Foster said. "We want to be high-profile 365 days a year."

Duval County Democratic Party Chairman Travis Bridges has been sending volunteers to the Clara White Mission downtown to assist with feeding the homeless. It's a humbling public service, he said, and one that helps political operatives keep focus on the idea that politics is about helping people.

That's a notion that can get lost easily in raucous legislative forums or news reports about crooked party finances, he said. …