Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 5, 2012

Video: Hoekstra ad draws more fire


Associated Press

LANSING — A coalition of black ministers in Detroit called Monday for U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra to apologize for his Super Bowl ad featuring a young Asian woman speaking broken English to describe the impact of the Democratic incumbent's economic policies.

The request came a day after an Asian-American group called the ad "very disturbing."

The Michigan Republican began taking heat after his ad targeting Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow as "Debbie Spenditnow" ran statewide Sunday during the Super Bowl. Some detractors said the ad was racially insensitive, while national GOP consultant Mike Murphy tweeted that it was "really, really dumb." Foreign Policy magazine managing editor Blake Hounshell called the ad "despicable."

The Rev. Charles Williams II of Detroit's King Solomon Baptist church, where Malcolm X spoke in the 1960s, joined with several other Detroit pastors calling for Hoekstra to pull the ad.

"The Asian woman speaking in this video would be no different than him having a black person speaking in slave dialect," Williams said in a statement Monday. "If Pete Hoekstra does not see any wrong in this commercial, he doesn't deserve to be in the race."

The 30-second ad created by media strategist Fred Davis of California-based Strategic Perception Inc opens with the sound of a gong and shows the 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."

Hoekstra defended the ad, calling it a "home run" during an interview Monday with Detroit radio WJR-AM's Paul W. Smith. He said it's only "insensitive" to the spending philosophy of Stabenow and Democratic President Barack Obama.

"Clearly China is one of many countries benefiting from our irresponsible spending. To highlight that is absolutely appropriate," Hoekstra said. The ad doesn't mention China directly.

The ad is scheduled to run statewide for the next two weeks on cable TV shows aimed at GOP voters.

A barrage of criticism hit Hoekstra's Facebook page early Sunday evening, but most of the negative comments were deleted by Monday morning. On YouTube, the ratings buttons on the ad were disabled after it aired, although another copy of the ad placed there by others was getting a mostly negative response.

On Facebook, Hoekstra said those "trying to make this an issue of race demonstrates their total ignorance of job creation policies." The Holland Republican scheduled a Monday morning conference call with reporters to discuss his campaign and what he views as Stabenow's big-spending policies that he says have led to China gobbling up U.S. debt and jobs.

The nonpartisan Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote group's Michigan chapter said it was "deeply disappointed" by the ad.

"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.

Two of Hoekstra's GOP opponents, Clark Durant and Gary Glenn, issued statements questioning if the current front-runner is the right candidate for Republicans to support.

Hoekstra planned to spend Monday at a meet-and-greet with supporters at a private home in suburban Detroit before addressing an evening county GOP meeting in south-central Michigan.

Stabenow, the two-term senator Hoekstra hopes to challenge, planned to hold a conference call to "discuss evidence that the Chinese are strong-arming Michigan businesses" into handing over intellectual property and technology as the cost of doing business in China.

Her campaign has not responded directly to the ad.

Mobile users can watch the ad here »

The above story is a mid-day update on the story we ran earlier today, below:

LANSING -- The portrayal of a young Asian woman speaking broken English in a Super Bowl ad run by U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra against incumbent Sen. 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 that 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, www.DebbieSpendItNow.com, 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.

In response to the Hoekstra ad, the state Democratic Party launched a website, hoekstrahoax.com.

Hoekstra's campaign spent $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.