First U.S. Senate campaign ad ignites political firestorm

Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra unveiled the first television commercial in the 2012 U.S. Senate race during the Super Bowl, and while he may have been aiming for positive spin, the backlash has been quite pronounced.

Hoekstra is one of six vying for the Republican nomination to unseat Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. His ad features an Asian woman wearing a straw hat, riding a bike near what are implied rice paddies, and speaking broken English. In not-so-subtle terms, the ad implies that Democratic Stabenow is responsible for the U.S. funding China's explosive growth with U.S. debt.

Hoekstra's rivals have used the ad -- and its mounting criticisms -- as an opportunity to slam the former congressman.

"This ad is proof that just because you have a lot of money to throw away doesn't mean you're going to win," said opponent Gary Glenn in an email to The American Independent.

In a general press statement, Glenn, who is the president of the American Family Association of Michigan, said Stabenow and Hoekstra should both be "benched."

After eighteen years in Washington, Congressman Hoekstra would have more credibility criticizing Debbie Stabenow's out of control spending if he himself hadn't voted for the $850 billion Wall Street bailout and Obama's $192 billion stimulus package and pork barrel boondoggles like the $223 million Bridge to Nowhere, plus raising the debt ceiling to double-digit trillions of dollars. In the Super Bowl, he'd get called for a false start and personal foul on the same play.

Democrats wasted no time in slamming Hoekstra's new ad. The Michigan Democratic Party released a Web commercial Sunday morning in response to the ad:

“Hoekstra's attempt at a Hollywood-style makeover is incredibly hypocritical because the fact is, Pete spends a lot," said Mark Brewer, Chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. 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 is using the big game to play games with Michigan voters, covering up his real record on deficit spending and rigging the rules for the big money insiders he serves."

In a follow-up press release Monday morning, Democrats slammed Hoekstra on a variety of actions he took in the U.S. House, which they say helped China while hurting Michigan families. The Democrats also pointed out that Stabenow has been a leading voice to challenge China's currency manipulations, which devalue their money in order to make their goods cheaper upon import to the U.S.

Beyond politics, many people are perceiving the ad to be overtly racist.

One Asian American group slammed Hoekstra on Sunday in a press statement:

Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote – Michigan is deeply disappointed by Pete Hoekstra’s "Debbie-spend-it-now" campaign ad, which plays on harmful stereotypes of Asians speaking broken English and has stereotypical Chinese music playing in the background. It is very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful and negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment.

A Hoekstra spokesperson told the Associated Press the ad was meant to be satirical. But on Sunday night, the AP reports, the staffer wrote on Hoekstra's Facebook page that those "trying to make this an issue of race demonstrates their total ignorance of job creation policies."

"As an Asian American working to rebuild Michigan’s fragile economy, I was deeply disappointed in Pete Hoekstra’s Super Bowl ad," former East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh wrote on his Facebook wall. Singh is currently running for the Michigan state House of Representatives. "Instead of playing to racial stereotypes that divide us, we need leaders that understand Michigan’s role in the global economy. Michigan’s advance manufacturing base is expanding and jobs are coming back. We need to be attracting international investment and talent at the same time as stabilizing trade imbalances. Political ads like this hurt Michigan and don’t move our economy forward. Michigan deserves better."

Michigan state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) said the ad was "not something I would run." Jones, a former county sheriff and the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The American Independent he thought Hoekstra's team ran the ad to get attention -- which Jones noted worked because every radio show in Michigan has been talking about it.

Asked specifically about whether he thought it was racist, Jones responded by referring to an incident last week, when Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat, referred to Native Americans opposing his plan to open a casino in Lansing as shooting bows and arrows at him. The mayor also called a spokesperson for the opposition group Chief Chicken Little. The comments sent of a torrent of criticisms.

"I don't think it was anymore racially insensitive than Virg Bernero's recent remarks that caused him some media coverage," Jones said."I think that political opponents will always make those claims."

Photo: Former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, center (source: Flickr/Pete Hoekstra)