WASHINGTON -- The nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon has set in motion a highly unusual campaign-style brawl over a cabinet post long considered above politics.
Supporters and opponents are raising money and building political organizations in anticipation of a grueling and contentious Senate confirmation process.
The opponents, led by a conservative group called the Emergency Committee for Israel, began airing attack ads soon after the Nebraska Republican's name surfaced weeks ago and rolled out a website, chuckhagel.com, on Monday to lay out its case against him. The group has questioned Hagel's commitment to the security of the Jewish state and accused him of being soft on Iran.
White House officials, meantime, have begun an aggressive campaign to introduce "the real Chuck Hagel," recruiting high-profile endorsements and contacting potential critics in an effort to neutralize opposition. For the first time since his name was floated, "the White House is putting its full muscle" behind Hagel, said a person familiar with the process.
In the past week, fundraising became a priority for both sides, introducing a new element of electoral-style politics into a realm that has seldom, if ever, seen it before.
A group of Hagel's backers, led by Richard Burt, a senior diplomat in the Reagan administration, has formed a nonprofit organization and solicited contributions from donors active in foreign policy and defense.
Burt said the aim was to prepare a public response to what they said was unfair criticism and to make sure "Hagel was not whittled down" before he was nominated.
As Burt's group was getting started, another organization, the Bipartisan Group, hired the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm, to promote Hagel's credentials.
The escalating campaigns come amid what has already been a flurry of published letters, op-eds, and print and broadcast advertisements.
Officials at the Emergency Committee for Israel said Monday they are ramping up a substantial online ad campaign.