LANSING, Mich. — U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra's Super Bowl ad uses images of rice paddies and talk of government overspending to accuse Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow of pursuing policies it says have helped China gobble up U.S. debt and jobs.
The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the ad, which airs statewide Sunday. It's the first ad to run in what's expected to be a heated fight for the seat Stabenow has held for 11 years.
Although Hoekstra's campaign manager called the ad satirical, a media consultant who previewed it Saturday along with other Super Bowl ads said it may strike some viewers as ethnically insensitive.
"Some Asian-Americans may be offended by the stereotype that is portrayed in the spot," said Robert Kolt, who teaches advertising part-time at Michigan State University and has advised Democrats.
The 30-second ad was filmed in California and never mentions China directly. It opens with the sound of a gong and shows a young Asian woman riding a bike on a narrow path lined by rice paddies.
"Thank you, Michigan Sen. Debbie 'Spenditnow'," the smiling woman says in the ad. "Debbie's spent 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 sitting in front of a cozy fire, where he tells voters, "I think this race is between Debbie 'Spenditnow" and Pete 'Spenditnot'."
Hoekstra is hoping to get the same bump that now-Gov. Rick Snyder got with his 2010 Super Bowl ad portraying himself as "one tough nerd." Both ads were created by media strategist Fred Davis of California-based Strategic Perception Inc.
In response, the Michigan Democratic Party planned to launch a 60-second Web ad Sunday. Relying mostly on a 2010 campaign ad run against Hoekstra by GOP gubernatorial rival Mike Cox, the Democratic ad criticizes the former congressman for voting for higher federal debt limits and the Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out failing banks.
"There's a real narrative here about him, making government bigger in his votes over the years, and staying in Washington with a lobbying firm when he was done," state Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said of Hoekstra, who served 18 years in the U.S. House before joining a Washington-based law and lobbying firm last year. "It all ties together."
But Hoekstra campaign spokesman Paul Ciaramitaro said Stabenow's record is the one that will anger voters once they know more.
"He's someone who's been a penny pincher," Ciaramitaro said. "Debbie Stabenow has a record ... of just spending without really examining the consequences."
Ciaramitaro said he thinks the ad will "resonate with the voters more and generate a discussion on her reckless spending and the record debt that we have" than a more standard political ad would.
The ad is a twist on the anti-Republican "moving jobs to China" theme that Michigan Democrats successfully used against 2006 GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and tried to use against Snyder in 2010. This time, the focus isn't on Republican businessmen sending jobs to China but on what Hoekstra says is Democratic overspending that has weakened the U.S. economy.
Kolt will be gathering Sunday evening with 20 advertising, public relations and retailing professors for their annual party to rate the Super Bowl ads. He said he doesn't think the Hoekstra ad will provide the entertainment value Super Bowl viewers expect and could even confuse some.
"Pete seems like a nice guy in the ad, but I think he is wasting a lot of money now," Kolt said. "It's just not Super Bowl worthy. It's not cute, it's not funny and it's not memorable."
Hoekstra's campaign is spending $75,000 to air the ad statewide Sunday. Supporters who donate $7.50 will get to see the ad online before it airs Sunday morning in the Detroit media market. It also will be shown in the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo areas before the Super Bowl begins and during the game in the Traverse City, Flint, Lansing and Marquette media markets. The campaign plans to run the ad over the next two weeks on cable TV shows targeted at GOP voters.
Hoekstra is scheduled to hold a Super Bowl party at Mr. B's in Rochester north of Detroit Sunday evening.
Follow Kathy Barks Hoffman at http://twitter.com/kathybhoffman