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Hoekstra defends ad against charges of racial insensitivity

Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is defending his first Senate campaign ad, which slams Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) as "Debbie Spend-it-now" and plays up fears of owing money to China against charges of racism.

The ad opens with an Asian woman on a bicycle in what appears to be a rice paddy. "Thank you, Michigan Sen. Debbie 'Spend-it-now,' " the woman says in accented English. "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 Spend-it-now."

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The ad then cuts to Hoekstra. "I think this race for U.S. Senate is between Debbie 'Spend-it-now' and Pete 'Spend-it-not.' I'm Pete spend-it-not, and I approve this message," he says.

The ad has stirred controversy because of the actress's accent, and has been criticized by Asian American groups in the state.

Hoekstra said on a Monday morning conference call that the ad was not insensitive to Chinese Americans, and sought to blame the controversy on Democrats. "The ad is only insensitive to Debbie Stabenow and her spending," he said. "The Chinese are taking advantage of the opportunity and the door we opened for them. The ad doesn't criticize the Chinese at all."

When asked whether his campaign had discussed the possibility of the ad being viewed as racist, Hoekstra blamed Democrats for stoking the controversy.

"We were aware of the possibility that [Democrats would] raise the race issue," he said. "If they can't defend their record ... they will try to come up with some other issue that diverts the public from their failed record."

Hoekstra's ad has also come under fire from fellow Republicans. "Pete Hoekstra Superbowl TV ad in MI Senate race really, really dumb. I mean really," tweeted top GOP strategist Mike Murphy.

“Stabenow has got to go," wrote Michigan GOP consultant Nick De Leeuw on Facebook. "But shame on Pete Hoekstra for that appalling new advertisement. ... Racism and xenophobia aren’t any way to get things done."

The ad, which cost $150,000, ran on Super Bowl Sunday in the Detroit market hours before game time.

Hoekstra's ad seeks to replicate the success of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's (R) 2010 ad, when he introduced himself as "one tough nerd." But this ad has less money behind it and is focused more on hitting Stabenow, who is well ahead in most polls, than in introducing Hoekstra to voters. 

Campaign strategist Fred Davis, who gained attention for producing Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's (R) "I'm not a witch" ad, produced both Snyder's successful ad and Hoekstra's.

The former congressman is the front-runner in the GOP primary by a wide margin, but faces a well-funded opponent to his right. The ad paints him as a fiscally-conservative option to Stabenow, who leads him in polls by a comfortable margin.

Michigan Democrats pushed back hard against the ad, pointing out that Hoekstra voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that bailed out Wall Street financial institutions, and worked as a lobbyist once he left Congress. 

"Politicians like Hoekstra run shameful, deceitful ads like these when they cannot defend their own records. 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," said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer. 

"Debbie Stabenow has been one of our strongest leaders in cracking down on other countries' illegal trade violations, while Hoekstra opposed new laws to fight the outsourcing of American jobs. Only a guy who works at lobbying firm like Pete Hoekstra could try to sell Michigan on an ad like this that runs 100 percent counter to the truth."

—This post was originally posted at 8:50 a.m. and has since been updated.