Story highlights

NEW: A campaign spokesman says the attack shows the risks of right-wing rhetoric

Henriette Reker wins the mayoral election in Cologne, a day after someone stabbed her

Reker strongly advocates integration and multicultural policy

CNN  — 

A man who said he disapproved of her liberal stance on refugees stabbed her in the neck a day before voters went to the polls.

But that didn’t stop German mayoral candidate Henriette Reker from winning Sunday’s election. The independent candidate, who’s expected to make a full recovery, is poised to become the next mayor of the western city of Cologne. Preliminary election results indicate she soared to victory, winning more than 52% of the vote

While Reker recovered from her injuries, a judge ruled Sunday that the suspect accused of attacking her must stay in jail until his trial.

Reker was campaigning Saturday in an open-air market, handing out roses to pedestrians, when a middle-aged man approached her and asked for a flower.

“When she tried to give him one, he pulled out a knife and stabbed her in the neck,” campaign spokesman Frederik Schorn told CNN.

Later, the suspect vented to officers his disapproval of the candidate’s liberal policies on refugees and criticized those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to German media reports.

Four other people sustained injuries in the attack. Police say they believe the 44-year-old man acted alone. He was carrying two knives, one of them a combat knife.

Schorn said the attack, which occurred in a German city that prides itself on diversity and tolerance, was an isolated incident – but still a frightening sign of tensions.

“In the immigrant crisis and the refugee crisis, we have a very controversial debate in Germany, and … there’s an active right wing shouting out its propaganda,” he said, “and some people are just accessible for that.”

Refugee flood

Germany has recently opened its borders to a flood of migrants pouring into Europe from Syria, Iraq and other crisis regions.

In poll after poll, large majorities of Germans have voiced approval of their government’s decision to take them in, and many Germans have turned out to train stations to welcome new arrivals with open arms and applause.

But right-wing radicals – and residents tagging along with them – have hurled stones and bottles at buses carrying migrants while screaming hate slogans at them. Dozens of new housing complexes for asylum seekers have gone up in flames lit by arsonists.

German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on its online news service that the suspect in Reker’s stabbing has had years of contact with neo-Nazi groups and with at least one far right party that has been outlawed.

Reker has stuck up for refugees as other politicians have advocated turning them out of temporary shelters, according to media reports. And she has praised new arrivals as adding value to German society.

“When I speak of refugees, I don’t speak of desperate measures and burdens but instead of potential and opportunity,” she recently said in a statement.

Reker campaign outraged

On her official Facebook page, Reker’s campaign thanked voters for supporting her at the polls Sunday.

In updates on her condition, the campaign said she was improving – and expressed its outrage over the attack.

“We are sad and appalled over the targeted attack on Henriette Reker, our colleagues and other campaign workers,” the team said. “We are shocked by the misdeed’s presumed xenophobic motive.”

The city of Cologne has a reputation in Germany for a prevalent attitude of diversity and acceptance, and Reker’s campaign platform openly appealed to this.

Her web page on her integration policy is titled, “Cologne is many-colored.” On it, she vows to promote equal opportunity and equal appreciation for of the city’s citizens regardless of ethnic, religious or gender background.

Though Reker ran as an independent, which is rare in German politics, she enjoyed broad support from Germany’s conservative, centrist and leftist ecological parties.

Schorn, the campaign spokesman, said Sunday that Reker remained hospitalized in stable condition, with her husband at her side. He wasn’t sure whether she’d learned yet of her election victory.

“I’m sure when she knows, and I’m sure her husband is going to tell it to her softly, she will be quite delighted,” he said.

CNN’s Alima Williams, Sara Mazloumsaki, Michael Holmes, Amara Walker and Dakota Flournoy contributed to this report.