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Dade Phelan wins GOP primary runoff

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) will return to the Texas House in January after being pushed to a runoff against Trump-endorsed David Covey — but emerging victorious tonight.

Ultimately, the speaker won by 366 votes after running up the score in his home of Jefferson County.

“HD 21 is not for sale. I will be your representative to the House in 2025. And I will be your speaker in 2025,” Phelan told supporters.

“I think this primary did me a favor. It allowed me to show the voters what my record is. When it’s all said and done, I am your state representative.”

Early voting returns looked promising for Phelan, winning Jefferson County’s early vote 69 percent to 31. He only won Jefferson’s early vote in the primary 40 percent to 25. When the other two counties came in for early vote, the speaker led his challenger by 962 votes and 5.4 points.

The speaker finished second by three points in the primary, pushed to a runoff after third-place challenger Alicia Davis pulled in 10.5 percent.

Early voting in the runoff showed an initial positive glimpse for Phelan with his home of Jefferson County turning out at a much larger proportion of total turnout than it did in the primary, at Orange and Jasper counties’ expense: 40 percent of turnout in May compared to 33 percent in March. Jefferson County nearly reached its primary early vote turnout number, a feat in and of itself.

One driver of turnout in the primary was two contentious sheriff races, one in both Jasper County and Orange County. But those were not on the ballot this time, and neither was Donald Trump. Both of those factors seemed to work against Covey and for Phelan.

The race became the proxy fight of all proxy fights. Over $12 million from each side flooded the Golden Triangle district.

Not only did it feature the overarching warring factions within the Texas GOP — illustrated by the figures wading in and the competing consulting firms on opposite sides; Murphy Nasica with Phelan and Axiom with Covey — but the broader tug-of-war between change and status quo.

Phelan’s opponents saw a wounded speaker, an opportunity to send a message on the way the Texas House has operated. Among those opponents is the same group who took down the last speaker, Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton): now Texans United for a Conservative Majority (TUCM), previously known as Defend Texas Liberty, whose lineage traces back to a group that used to be known as Empower Texans.

TUCM spent $900,000 on the HD 21 race, spending loads more going after other incumbent Republicans — and being fairly successful at it, alongside the flood of money from Gov. Greg Abbott and the pro-school choice groups when those forces were aligned.

One of those groups, Club for Growth, pumped tons of dollars into HD 21 to take out Phelan.

On the other side, Texas Defense PAC — funded by casino magnate Miriam Adelson — pumped in $600,000 along with a $200,000 ad buy from the Associated Republicans of Texas and $40,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform; the Republican State Leadership Committee put $750,000 into the speaker’s campaign during the primary.

The river of money was flowing, a current moving quickly and in both directions.

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