OMAHA – Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell lavished praise Friday on Sen. Chuck Hagel and said many of his warnings about the Iraq war have been validated.

“Many of the predictions Chuck Hagel made about the war came true,” the Kentucky senator said in a brief interview after his remarks at a fundraising reception.

“They have proven to be accurate.”

Hagel’s views on the war “have not diminished his effectiveness,” McConnell said, and may, in fact, increase his effectiveness over time.

Hagel warned against a U.S. attack against Iraq without broad international support and careful planning for the aftermath. Most recently, he has opposed President Bush’s increase in U.S. troops while supporting changes in the U.S. military mission and gradual withdrawal of most combat troops.

McConnell told 300 people at the $100-per-person fundraiser for Hagel that the Nebraskan is “a solid, thoughtful, conservative Republican” whose voice is invaluable to the nation.

The tribute served as a vigorous response to Hagel critics who, as the Senate GOP leader phrased it, say that “somehow (Hagel) is not much of a Republican.”

On the contrary, McConnell said, Hagel stands with him philosophically 90 percent of the time and voted more often in support of Bush’s legislative positions than any other member of the Senate in 2006.

Hagel is “an indispensable member of the Republican team,” McConnell said.

McConnell headlined two fundraising events that raised more than $125,000 for the Hagel for Senate committee.

About 65 contributors attended a $1,000-per-person dinner reception at Happy Hollow Country Club after the $100 reception at the renovated Paxton ballroom in downtown Omaha.

Hagel plans to announce later this year whether he will seek re-election to a third term, pursue the presidency or leave elective office at the end of 2008.

Money raised at Friday’s events could be used either for a Senate race or a presidential quest.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub and Columbus industrialist Tony Raimondo have signaled their interest in the 2008 Republican Senate race.

Raimondo attended Hagel’s downtown reception and again said he’d jump into the contest only if the senator is not a candidate.

Bruning is proceeding with the intention of entering the race whether Hagel seeks re-election or not. Daub will conduct a 93-county “listening tour” before making his decision.

Hagel gave no hint of his plans, but did tell the audience he believes he owes Nebraskans his best judgment even if it costs him political support.

“You need to be honest with those you represent, knowing full well not everyone will agree with you,” he said.

McConnell described Hagel as “a man of extraordinary principle” who tells people what he really believes.

“It’s not spin,” he said. “It’s not calculated.”

Hagel, he said, is “one of the premier foreign policy voices (and) one of the giants in the United States Senate.”

Gov. Dave Heineman also praised Hagel’s independent nature.

“He’s a very independent-minded Nebraskan with strong opinions like the Nebraskans I hear from every single day,” Heineman said.

Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.