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Tuesday, February 14,2012

Could Hoekstra ad be political genius?

by Kyle Melinn

This story was corrected on Feb. 14.

Pete Hoekstra kicked up a political storm with a Super Bowl ad packed with B Movie Chinese stereotypes.

The rice paddies, straw hat, crappy bike, broken English. It’s all there with a corresponding website so offensive I could feel the sadness in my Chinese friend’s voice as she reacted to it.

The explosive reaction generated news coverage in India and England. Political bloggers at The New York Times, Washington Post and Politico panned it. Slate tweeted that it’s “stupid and blatantly xenophobic to an embarrassing degree.” Comedy Central awarded it the “Creepiest Super Bowl ad.”

So what was Hoekstra doing? 

A few things. First, it took the “China issue” — which Democrats used against Republicans Dick DeVos and Rick Snyder — completely off the table for future use. It started the catchy “Debbie SpenditNow” name play. It galvanized the perception that Hoekstra will be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. 

More important, it’s getting new people to donate to the Hoekstra camp by putting a previously unnoticed Stabenow re-election effort on the national radar.

Its outrageousness was a calculated gamble, a realization from the former congressman from Holland that he needs to play big or go home.

Let’s play this out. Let’s say Hoekstra runs the non-offensive, bland, “Hi, I’m Pete” ad from his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Let’s say he runs nothing at all, which is about the same thing.

Stabenow is a smart and measured two-term incumbent. She’s great with the party line and makes few mistakes. She travels the state and gets in the news.

Her campaign has banked about $6 million. She’s running with President Obama heading the ticket in a traditionally blue state with an improving economy.

Hoekstra is a traditionally poor fundraiser ($1.5 million in the bank) running in a contested primary against Clark Durant ($1.2 million) who rubs elbows with deep-pocketed people.

If Hoekstra beats Durant in August, he’ll blow his limited cash to do it. That sets him up nicely for a first-class beating against cash-flush Stabenow Nov. 6.

Don’t believe this scenario? Ask Mike Bouchard how 2006 treated him. His low-fizzle campaign got bogged down by Keith Butler’s nuisance primary. He then got lost amid the Jennifer Granholm-Dick DeVos hoopla and a fearmonger-China campaign. Stabenow smoked him.

Hoekstra only becomes a U.S. senator if he gets air support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and conservative, faceless third party PACs who will bombard TVs with bombs similar to the anti-Congressman Mark Schauer ads of the ‘10 Congressional race ... something that hasn’t happened in a Michigan U.S. Senate race since 2000.

Without national help, Hoekstra is toast, even if Michigan-raised Mitt Romney tops the ticket.

Before Super Bowl Sunday, Hoekstra v. Stabenow either bottomed the national pundits’ lists for U.S. Senate battleground races or wasn’t there at all. 

At best, Michigan is “lean Democrat,” joining fellow high-dollar media-market states Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Republicans need only a few winners for majority, so Hoekstra must stand out to join the golden circle.

Standing out means raising money. In Michigan, raising money is limited, as he knows. Hoekstra can’t suck up to the rich mucky mucks. Durant walks in those circles. The Michigan Tea Party types like the American Family Association’s Gary Glenn and a motley crew of characters who’ve never voted to raise a debt ceiling.

Hoekstra needs small contributions from a large number of people. That means going national early, before Scott Brown in Massachusetts or George Allen in Virginia suck up the oxygen.

Going national means causing a splash. Get people’s attention. Get their money. 

Now people are paying attention, but who is giving one penny after watching that ad?

Certainly not the independents who will decide the election, but Hoekstra isn’t going after them right now. He’s got nine months to help them (fingers crossed) forget about this.

He’s going after the backlash to the backlash, the social conservative types who watch Lou Dobbs — who praised Hoekstra on Fox News as “doing a terrific job.” He’s going after those who look past the racism and focus on a candidate who is highlighting the country’s uncontrolled spending and America needing China to hold 8 percent of its debt.

These folks may give few bucks now. Hoekstra emails them back in April and gets a few more. He emails again in July and September and October and gets much more.

Tea Party U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle used a low-dollar strategy to raise $14 million in one quarter in Nevada. She lost the race, but not for want of money.

So what was Hoekstra thinking with this ad? Money.

Will the money be worth the negative publicity? It’s a gamble Hoekstra is willing to make.

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