(Reuters) - A Michigan Republican Senate candidate’s campaign ad showing an Asian actress speaking in halting English drew fire from Asian-American and civil rights groups on Monday who said the commercial plays on racial stereotypes.
Former U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra, who is seeking to challenge U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, aired the spot during the Super Bowl on Sunday, drawing sharp reactions from advocacy groups, Democrats and two Republican opponents.
In the ad, the actress rides a bicycle up to the camera on a dirt road by a lake in an unidentified country, while Asian-themed music plays in the background.
The woman stops and in halting English says, “Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie Spenditnow. Debbie spend 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.”
Hoekstra closes the ad by saying he is Pete “Spenditnot” Hoekstra and he endorses the message.
The Michigan branch of the national group Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote, which seeks to involve Asian-Americans in politics and civic life, said in a statement the ad “plays on harmful stereotypes.”
“It is very disturbing that Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign chose to use harmful and negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment,” the group said.
The Reverend Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP said Monday that Hoekstra owed the Asian community an apology for the “ill-conceived” and “disrespectful and racially charged” advertisement.
“As to your campaign, Mr. Hoekstra, please, ‘spend it not’ on antics such as this,” Anthony said.
Hoekstra said on his campaign website that the advert would run for two weeks - at a cost of $150,000 - and would highlight what he described as U.S. spending supported by Stabenow that has led to a growing dependence on China.
“What these folks are angry about is the message that we are actually confronting Debbie Stabenow on the failed policies that have resulted in 8.5 percent to 9 percent unemployment in the United States,” Hoekstra said on Fox News, according to a statement on his website.
The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent in December and then to 8.3 percent in January, the Labor Department has reported.
Two of Hoekstra’s opponents for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Michigan, Clark Durant and Gary Glenn, have criticized the ad and sought to tie him closely to Stabenow in terms of his voting record on spending while serving in Congress.
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said the ad was misleading and accused Hoekstra of previously opposing laws to stop job outsourcing.
Michigan’s U.S. Senate primary will be held in August.
Editing By Alex Dobuzinskis and Tim Gaynor