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Texas House speaker heads to a runoff against a Trump-endorsed challenger

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and his Republican challenger David Covey, who was backed by former President Donald Trump and Attorney General Ken Paxton, will proceed to a primary runoff race in May, the Associated Press projected.

Phelan and Covey were neck and neck in the results early Wednesday morning, while a third GOP candidate, hairdresser Alicia Davis, won far fewer votes but helped deny both candidates a majority of their party’s votes.

The state House speaker incurred the wrath of Republicans in Texas and nationally after leading the impeachment proceedings against state Attorney General Ken Paxton. Covey, a GOP activist, campaigned heavily on the former president’s support, while Paxton appeared on the trail and in ads on his behalf.

Phelan has perhaps the most politically precarious job in Texas: Speakers must be elected by their districts and all 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives. That means a Republican like Phelan must convince Democratic colleagues and conservative primary voters in his own district to reelect him every two years.

Phelan was first elected to the state House in 2014 and took up the speaker’s gavel in 2021. But his tenuous balancing act between the left and right wings of the chamber was disrupted last year when he oversaw impeachment proceedings against Paxton on corruption charges. The impeachment, and subsequent trial, triggered widespread infighting within the Texas GOP.

The Texas Senate declined to convict and remove Paxton for office, and the attorney general — backed by Trump — vowed revenge on those who tried to oust him. Paxton campaigned Phelan against dozens of other GOP incumbents leading up to Tuesday’s primary.

“Any Republican backing Phelan is a fool, and should be disassociated from the Republican Party — that’s how bad Phelan is, especially on, Election Integrity!” Trump wrote on Truth Social, endorsing Covey.

“Dade has lost his way and is more beholden to the Democrats who elected him speaker than the people who elected him to fight for them,” Paxton said in one of Covey’s ads.

Phelan blamed Paxton for misleading the public and Trump in a campaign ad.

“Vengeful Paxton is the reason Trump’s involving himself in our race. If Paxton will break an oath to his wife and God, why would he tell Trump — or you — the truth?” Phelan said, alluding to the details of Paxton’s extramarital affair that became public during the trial.

Phelan worked to keep the campaign local. In the final weeks he enjoyed the support of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who boasted to supporters that Phelan gave his district a seat at the table in every major decision the state legislature makes.

“I don’t know why I need to be in Beaumont, Texas, telling you that you will be absolutely out of your mind if you get rid of Dade Phelan,” Perry joked on the trail, dismissing party infighting as unnecessary. “I mean, we’re gonna give y’all mental competency tests.”

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