Super Bowl political ad sparks racial debate

U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra
U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra

By Kathy Barks Hoffman
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — The portrayal of a young Asian woman speaking broken English in a Super Bowl ad being run by U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra against Michigan incumbent Debbie Stabenow is bringing charges of racial insensitivity.

GOP consultant Nick De Leeuw flat-out scolded the Holland Republican for the ad.

“Stabenow has got to go. But shame on Pete Hoekstra for that appalling new advertisement,” De Leeuw wrote on his Facebook page Sunday morning. “Racism and xenophobia aren’t any way to get things done.”

The nonpartisan Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote group’s Michigan chapter said it was “deeply disappointed” by the ad, noting the Asian-American community is a major contributor to Michigan’s economy.

In 2010, Michigan’s 236,490 Asian-Americans made up 2.4 percent of the state’s population, up 35 percent from 2000.

“It is very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment,” the group said in a statement.

Hoekstra campaign spokesman Paul Ciaramitaro said the ad is meant to be satirical. Hoekstra’s Facebook page, which by early evening was getting a barrage of criticism on the ad, snapped back that those “trying to make this an issue of race demonstrates their total ignorance of job creation policies.”

On YouTube, the ratings buttons on the ad were disabled after it aired.

“Democrats talk about race when they can’t defend their records,” Ciaramitaro said. “The U.S. economy is losing jobs to China because of Stabenow’s reckless spending policies. China is reaping the reward.”

The 30-second ad was filmed in California and never mentions China directly.

It opens with the sound of a gong and shows a young Asian woman riding a bike on a narrow path lined by rice paddies.

Stopping her bike, the woman smiles into the camera and says, “Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spends so much American money. You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spenditnow.”

The scene then shifts to Hoekstra telling viewers near a cozy fire, “I think this race is between Debbie Spenditnow and Pete Spenditnot.”

The Hoekstra campaign set up a website,, that features the ad and includes Chinese writing, paper lanterns, parade dragons and Stabenow’s face on a Chinese fan.

It accuses the Democratic senator of “pouring American dollars into the Chinese economy.”

Democrats were quick to challenge the premise of the ad, referring to Hoekstra’s 18 years in the U.S. House and the fact that he joined a Washington-based law and lobbying firm last year.

“Hoekstra’s ad is nothing more than a hypocritical attempt at a Hollywood-style makeover because the fact is, Pete spends a lot,” Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said.

“Hoekstra voted for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout and voted for trillions more in deficit spending before quitting Congress to get rich at a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm.”

Hoekstra GOP Senate rival Gary Glenn of Midland struck a similar theme.

“Saving America from the Washington, D.C., politicians who gave us this crippling debt and deficit crisis, Republican and Democrat alike, means Hoekstra and Stabenow should both get benched,” Glenn said in a release.

In response to the Hoekstra ad, the state Democratic Party launched a website,, as well as a 60-second Web ad Sunday that shows a 2010 campaign ad run against Hoekstra by GOP gubernatorial rival Mike Cox.

Hoekstra’s hoping to get the same bump from his ad that now-Gov. Rick Snyder got with his 2010 Super Bowl ad portraying himself as “one tough nerd.”

Both ads were created by media strategist Fred Davis of California-based Strategic Perception Inc.

The new ad is a twist on the anti-Republican “moving jobs to China” theme that Michigan Democrats successfully used against 2006 GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and tried to use against Snyder in 2010.

This time, the focus isn’t on Republican businessmen sending jobs to China but on what Hoekstra says is Democratic overspending that has weakened the U.S. economy.

Stabenow, who’s running for a third term, has pushed for trade policies aimed at China that impose duties and penalties on countries that manipulate their currency and penalize companies that steal intellectual property from U.S. companies.

She’s using the Hoekstra ad to raise money for her campaign, which already has nearly $6 million on hand.

Hoekstra’s campaign is spending $75,000 to air the ad statewide Sunday.

It aired in the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo areas before the Super Bowl began and during the game in the Traverse City, Flint, Lansing and Marquette media markets, the campaign said. The ad is set to run over the next two weeks on cable TV shows targeted at GOP voters.