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, while a third GOP candidate, hairdresser Alicia Davis, won far fewer votes but helped deny both candidates a majority of their party’s votes.

Phelan incurred the wrath of Republicans in Texas and nationally when he led the impeachment proceedings against state Attorney General Ken Paxton. Covey, a GOP activist, campaigned heavily on Trump’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 persuade Democratic colleagues and conservative primary voters in his own district to re-elect 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 the subsequent trial, triggered widespread infighting within the Texas GOP.

The Texas Senate declined to convict and remove Paxton from office, and Paxton — backed by Trump — vowed revenge on those who tried to oust him. Paxton campaigned against Phelan and 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.

Paxton said in one of Covey’s ads, “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.”

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, which became public during the trial.

Phelan worked to keep the campaign local. In the final weeks he enjoyed the support of former Gov. Rick Perry, who boasted to supporters that Phelan gave his district a seat at the table in every major decision the 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 going to give y’all mental competency tests.”

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