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Pete Hoekstra’s China ad provokes accusations of racism

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While Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad has become a political football, an actual campaign ad aired during the game is also causing controversy.

Michigan Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra (R) aired his first campaign ad of the cycle Sunday night, and Asian-American groups are crying foul.

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The spot accuses Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of helping China by increasing the national debt. A gong plays, and a young woman bikes through rice paddies to the sound of traditional Chinese music. “Debbie spend so much American money,” she says after stopping her bike. “You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you Debbie Spend-it-now.”

The ad shifts to Hoekstra sitting by a fire. “I think this race is between Debbie Spenditnow and Pete Spenditnot,” he says.

Viewers are directed to visit a website featuring images of dragons and Chinese writing.

Claiming an opponent will send or has sent jobs to China is hardly a new threat in Michigan politics. Democrats have used such attacks. One of the most famous ads of the 2010 cycle, from the third-party group Citizens Against Government Waste, featured a Chinese professor of the future talking about the collapse of the United States.

But the broken English and stereotypical music in Hoekstra’s ad have provoked a backlash.

“Really, really dumb,” Republican strategist Mike Murphy said over Twitter. “I mean really.”

The Michigan chapter of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote, a nonpartisan group, called the ad “very disturbing” in a statement. A member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called the ad “blatantly racist.”

A group of Detroit black ministers joined in, arguing that the spot is “no different than him having a black person speaking in slave dialect.”

Former charter school founder Clark Durant, Hoekstra’s main primary opponent, sent an open letter to Republican officials in the state asking “Is Pete Hoekstra now the strongest candidate to defeate Debbie Stabenow?”

The ad never actually mentions China by name; it was filmed in California with a Chinese-American actress. (In a conference call, Hoekstra told reporters that the actress’s parents are “100 percent Chinese.”)

“It’s not a stereotype at all. Through the creative, this is a young woman in China who’s speaking English,” Hoekstra added on Fox News Monday afternoon, referring to the fictional environment of the ad. “That’s quite an achievement.”

On WJR radio Monday morning, Hoekstra called it “probably the best ad of the political season.”

Republican consultant John Weaver, who worked for now-Gov. Rick Snyder in 2010, defended the ad, saying it was “not racially charged or over the edge in any regard, other than perhaps harming the sensibility of the political correctness class in Washington.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is staying neutral in all open-seat primaries.

But spokesman Brian Walsh responded without addressing the controversy: “At a time when Michigan has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Senator Stabenow’s failed record of bigger government, higher taxes and reckless spending has been, and will continue to be, a central issue in this campaign.”

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