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A controversial ad from Michigan Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra (R) that aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl played off of the historical fear of Asians “stealing” American jobs. The commercial features an Asian woman in the backdrop of a field (meant to evoke China) thanking current Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) for spending American money and borrowing from China.
“Your economy get very weak, ours get very good. We take your jobs,” the woman says in broken English. “Thank you, Debbie ‘Spend-it-Now’!”
The Michigan chapter of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote group released a statement condemning Hoekstra for focusing on “harmful and negative stereotypes that intrinsically encourage anti-Asian sentiment.” 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.”
Despite the backlash, Hoekstra remains proud of his ad, saying it is “probably the best of the political season” and their use of the rice field in the video as a “creative element.” Hoekstra is claiming the Democrats are raising the issue of racial insensitivity as effort to duck a discussion on deficit spending.
Republicans’ lack of attention on Asian-American voters could be a critical oversight. According to the 2010 Census, the Asian-American population has grown 46 percent in the last decade, and is considered one of the fastest growing racial groups in America – most notably in swing states like Nevada and Virginia.
The data from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are 17.3 million U.S. residents of Asian descent, which makes up approximately 6 percent of the nation’s population. In Michigan alone, the Asian American population grew 34 percent in the last decade.
What’s more, over half of all registered Asian American voters said they don’t identify with a particular political party, according to data from the National Asian American Survey.
“The candidates are not being very smart,” says former Delaware Lt. Gov. Shien Biau Woo in an interview with msnbc.com. “The Asian-American vote could really make a difference.” Woo is the co-founder of the 80-20 Initiative, the largest Asian-American PAC in the country. In 2008, 80-20 endorsed Barack Obama and encouraged Asian-American voters to vote for him over John McCain, who did not respond to 80-20’s questionnaire.
This year, none of the Republican candidates have responded.
Of the presidential race, Woo says the GOP field “has never been willing to show they’re concerned about Asian-American issues.” A major issue for the minority group, Woo adds, revolves around equal opportunity in the workplace for Asian Americans to be promoted into management levels— an issue that Hoekstra and other conservative leaders focus on as a threat, rather than an opportunity.
Sen. Stabenow might need not worry that this line of attack will stick: The senator has a record of opposing trade deals with China and has called for crackdowns on the country’s manufacturing practices.