updated 9/26/2006 1:42:35 PM ET 2006-09-26T17:42:35

Hawaii's Republican Party chose state Rep. Cynthia Thielen on Monday to challenge Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka in November's general election.

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Thielen, 73, is a replacement nominee for former prisoner of war Jerry Coffee, who won Saturday's GOP primary despite withdrawing from the race because of poor health.

Akaka, 82, who defeated Rep. Ed Case in the Democratic primary on Saturday, has served in Congress for 30 years and drew on his experience to boost his candidacy.

Politics of Iraq
Thielen, wearing a purple lei at the announcement, refused to give a direct answer when repeatedly asked whether she thought the war in Iraq was justified. Akaka's strong opposition to the war was a key issue in his campaign against Case. 2006 key races

"I am tremendously supportive of our troops. I want to bring them home, but I want to bring them home when Iraq will be stabilized. I don't want to leave that region in chaos," she said.

Asked if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign, she said, "We need to get a leadership in there that is going to be effective. If that means that Rumsfeld should be replaced, or if Rumsfeld should be joined by someone else to look for another direction, I'd like to look at that."

No debates likely
Akaka, in a statement released by his office, said, "There are clear differences between my general election opponent and me, particularly when it comes to questioning the direction in which the Bush administration has taken our country."

Akaka's campaign immediately said he would not debate Thielen because she was picked by the party, not the people.

Thielen, the assistant minority floor leader in the House, where she has served since 1990, will not give up her legislative seat to run against Akaka. She won re-election to the Legislature in Saturday's primary because she had no opposition in either party.

"I'm not a placeholder. I want you all to know, I'm in it to win," she said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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