Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Black Vote in Maryland & Party Politics ...

In a move that's making ripples across the political talk circuit, Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons publicly endorsed Maryland Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. What's the big deal? Well, Steele is a Black Republican and Simmons (also Black) has a reputation for supporting "progressive" and Democratic party causes. Observes Donna Brazile in the attached Washington Times piece:

"This is a major endorsement for Lieutenant Governor Steele that will help him attract young people, as well as black voters," Ms. Brazile said. "Once again, this should serve as a wake-up call to Democrats not to take their most loyal constituents and voters for granted."

First Jeff Johnson for Ken Blackwell in Ohio, now Simmons and RadioOne founder Cathy Hughes for Steele in Maryland (We haven't heard of Pennsylvania Gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann (R) having that kind of luck). These are powerful endorsements, the extent of which should be of great concern to Democrats.

However, this is about more than just sudden shifts in party allegiances. We caution against framing this conversation within "party talk" which is to simply talk about Black votes as though they are only pawns being pushed around on a partisan chess board. No, that's not the case. The African American electorate is maturing and becoming much more sophisticated and independent. This is an essential change - yet, one that requires constant oversight lest the poorer and dispossessed in the community fall further behind. We suspect Steele, known as a consummate deal-maker in the Maryland business community, is making backdoor promises to both Simmons and Hughes (Simmons needing to diversify as commercial hip hop gets stale & Hughes getting innovative as RadioOne loses serious revenue in the wake of satellite radio & mp3s).