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BET.com
updated 8/25/2006 4:12:49 PM ET 2006-08-25T20:12:49

The Republican Party might have been the party of Abraham Lincoln, but you’d never know it watching how the average African-American voter reacts to the thought of going against a Democrat.

That’s why Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele gets props for his strategy to win the Maryland seat in the U.S. Senate. He’s tapped two high-profile African Americans with major-league street cred among the Hip-hop Generation to send out the word that it’s OK to go GOP.

Last night, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons – who, by the way, has campaigned vigorously for Democratic candidates in the past and has helped register thousands of Black Democrats – hosted a fundraiser for Steele, hoping to make him the state’s first Black U.S. senator. Just a week ago, Jeff Johnson – a show host for BET, minister and a youth activist – also threw his support behind Steele. (Remember, Kweisi Mfume, the former president of the NAACP and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus is also in this race, but Simmons and Johnson have made it clear that they are all about Steele.)

By staging the $35-$500 per-person fundraiser in Mfume’s backyard – the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Baltimore – Steele showed that he understands the importance of pulling Black votes. On hand to wave his banner were Cathy Hughes, founder and chairman of the Black-run Radio One and hip-hop DJ giant Kid Capri.

And if you still doubt he‘s going all out to get Black folks in the mix, just click on over to his Web site, and you’ll see one of the slickest, hippest hubs on the Internet. And guess what? While he emphasizes the importance of involving a “new generation” – Translation: Hip-hop Generation – he never plays up party affiliation. Perhaps he also realizes that most Black folks (even though they vote overwhelmingly Democratic) tend to identify themselves as Independents. It’s likely that he also recognizes that a great many young Blacks do not feel connected to the traditional civil rights establishment.

That’s not a criticism of mainstream civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Mary Frances Berry, but it suggests that the more amplified, violent versions of racism have gone underground, making it more difficult for today’s youths to recognize the benefits of old-school strategies, such as sit-ins, marches and boycotts.

Simmons, Johnson and many other young Black activists have traded in their neckties and starched-white shirts for baseball caps and throw-back jerseys. And they tend to downplay the White-man’s oppression and play up mastering the game – the money game.
   
Who better to preach Steele’s – very Republican – sermon of economic opportunity than the multi-millionaire tandem of Hughes and Simmons, the force behind the Def Jam Records and the platinum-plated acts like LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC.

Even Donna Brazile, who headed up former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s unsuccessful bid, sees the kind of trouble Republicans like Steele pose for her party’s candidates.

“This is a serious wake-up call for the Democrats,” she told reporters recently.

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