LANSING, Mich. (AP) — 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, telling reporters during a Monday conference call that it has "jumpstarted the debate" over deficit spending. He said it's only "insensitive" to the Democratic philosophy of Stabenow and President Barack Obama, noting the ad doesn't criticize China. Asked about the woman in the ad, Hoekstra said that "her parents are 100 percent Chinese."
"We knew we were taking an aggressive approach on this. But this is a time where the people in Michigan and across the country are fed up with the spending, and we wanted to capture that frustration that they had with Washington, D.C.," he said. "This ad ... hits Debbie smack dab between the eyes on the issue where she is vulnerable with the voters of Michigan, and that is spending."
Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer, whose party launched an anti-Hoekstra web ad Sunday, said it's Hoekstra's record as an 18-year congressman that won't hold up under voters' scrutiny.
"Hoekstra ran up our debt to countries like China by voting for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, and for trillions in unfunded giveaways to billionaires and special interests," Brewer said in a statement. "Debbie Stabenow has been one of our strongest leaders in cracking down on other countries' illegal trade violations."
Stabenow planned a Monday conference call to "discuss evidence that the Chinese are strong-arming Michigan businesses" into handing over intellectual property and technology as a cost of doing business in China.
Her campaign has not responded directly to the ad, which is scheduled to run statewide for the next two weeks on cable TV shows aimed at Republican voters.
A barrage of criticism hit Hoekstra's Facebook page early Sunday evening after the ad ran, 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.
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. In 2010, Michigan's 236,490 Asian-Americans made up 2.4 percent of the state's population, up 35 percent from 2000.
Two of Hoekstra's GOP opponents, Clark Durant and Gary Glenn, issued statements questioning whether the current front-runner is the right candidate for Republicans to support.
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