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 on Monday rolled out a Web site, chuckhagel.com, 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, meanwhile, have begun an aggressive push 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 has become 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, 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 make sure “Hagel was not whittled down” before he was nominated. With President Obama officially naming Hagel on Monday and the White House bolstering its defense of the nominee, Burt said his group will refund the donations.
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 that they are ramping up a substantial online ad campaign, buying Google keywords and placing ads on Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to their new anti-Hagel Web site. “Anyone concerned about Chuck Hagel is going to see what we have to contribute to this debate in the coming weeks,” said Noah Pollak, the group’s executive director.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a group that supports gay rights, purchased a full-page ad in Monday’s Washington Post recalling Hagel’s 1996 statement supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as a statement he made in 1998 referring to an ambassadorial nominee as “openly, aggressively gay.” The ad notes Hagel’s recent regret for his past comments and labels the apology “Too little, too late.” Gregory T. Angelo, the group’s interim executive director, declined to say how much money the group raised for the anti-Hagel ad.
The battle lines are being drawn so sharply because of the high stakes on all sides.