Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders won the governorship of Arkansas on Tuesday, becoming the first woman to hold that position and the most prominent member of the Trump administration to hold an elected position.

In her home state, which is largely Republican and where former President Donald Trump is still popular, Sanders defeated Democratic nominee Chris Jones in the election for governor. The election, which also featured Libertarian contender Ricky Dale Harrington, had Sanders as the clear favourite.

Also read: What are runoff elections in the US?

Sanders’ campaign, which mostly addressed federal issues, broke state fundraising records. As the daughter of former governor Mike Huckabee, Sanders frequently pledged to use her position to oppose the “radical left” and President Joe Biden.

Sanders, though, avoided mentioning either the previous or current president during her victory speech on Tuesday night and instead focused on the people she encountered while running for office.

“This election is about taking Arkansas to the top,” Sanders said. “I know that Arkansas can be first, and I’m committed to being the leader who takes us there.”

Also read: Republican ‘red wave’ hopes hit Blue wall of resilience

Stan Hall, a retired postal worker, said he voted for Sanders though he wanted her to talk more about state issues rather than criticizing Biden or talking up her time working for Trump.

“I think, just state your own feelings on what you’re going to try and do and improve things,” Hall said. “Everybody knows who she was and what she did, so to keep beating that drum was a little bit much for me.”

Sanders succeeds Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is leaving office in January due to term limits. Hutchinson, who endorsed Sanders’ bid, is considering running for president in 2024 and has frequently split with Trump.

Also read: US midterms 2022: Josh Shapiro is Pennsylvania governor, John Fetterman wins Senate race

When Sanders departed the White House in 2019 to return to Arkansas, Trump publicly urged her to run for governor.

However, Sanders was well-known in the state before Trump. She contributed to her father’s efforts and appeared in his advertisements. She oversaw the election of Sen. John Boozman in 2010 and served as Sen. Tom Cotton’s advisor in 2014.

After having surgery for thyroid cancer in September, Sanders took a brief break from the campaign trail. Sanders’ doctor reported that following surgery, she was cancer-free.

Also read: US midterms 2022: Aruna Miller first Indian-American to win Maryland LG race

After constantly tussling with reporters who aggressively questioned her, Sanders reduced daily televised briefings during her nearly two-year stay at the White House. After it was discovered in the special counsel Robert Mueller report that Sanders had admitted to making an untrue statement to reporters regarding the reaction of FBI agents to director James Comey’s dismissal, she was questioned about her credibility. However, she also gained the respect of journalists by working behind the scenes to build connections with the press.

Also read: US midterms 2022: Maryland approves recreational marijuana, Arkansas and North Dakota reject

Sanders embraced Trump’s rhetoric during her bid for governor and adopted many of his favorite targets, including critical race theory and the national news media. But she’s avoided criticizing Hutchinson, even after the former president labeled Hutchinson a RINO — Republican In Name Only — for vetoing an anti-transgender law.

Sanders said she would have signed that measure — a ban on gender-affirming care for minors — into law.

She’s stopped short of agreeing with Trump that his loss in the 2020 presidential election was stolen, though she’s said the former president has the right to make that claim.

Also read: US midterms 2022: Shooting survivor Craig Greenberg wins Louisville mayor

Jones, a nuclear engineer, and ordained Baptist preacher had positioned himself to voters as being more inclusive than Sanders. He launched his campaign with a viral video in which he discussed the heritage of his family in the region. He ran on promises to increase broadband access and preschool enrollment.

Speaking to supporters on Tuesday night, Jones did not concede the race.

“We’re going to count every last vote in this race,” Jones said. “Why? Because Arkansas deserves it and Arkansas is worth it.”

Also read: These 3 victories in US Midterm elections are historic. Here’s why

Kathy Balkman, a retired educator in Little Rock, said she voted for Jones and cited Sanders’ time as press secretary as a reason.

“She was very confrontational, and I don’t see that she has any skills to not work confrontationally in our state,” said Balkman, a Democrat who said she’s voted previously for the state’s current Republican governor.