David Covey forces runoff with Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, who led AG Ken Paxton's impeachment

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) —

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has been forced into a runoff for the Republican nomination in his East Texas district by challenger David Covey amid a fierce campaign by state Attorney General Ken Paxton to oust dozens of GOP incumbents who sought his impeachment last year.

Phelan advanced to a May 28 runoff against Covey, an oil and gas consultant and party activist endorsed by Paxton and former President Donald Trump. Neither could win a majority for victory outright in a race that included retired hairdresser Alicia Davis.

Paxton was acquitted of corruption and abuse of office allegations in a historic Texas Senate trial in 2023. But he blamed Phelan, a two−term House speaker, for leading that effort and mounted a political revenge campaign to oust the House leader and others who supported the unsuccessful attempt to drive him from office.

The runoff struck a heavy blow to Phelan, who led the Republican−majority House as it passed some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the nation, supported Gov. Greg Abbott’s nationally watched anti−immigration policies and ended diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in public higher education.

But that wasn’t enough for some state Republicans. The state party censured Phelan last month for his vote to impeach Paxton, accusing him of a “lack of fidelity to Republican principles and priorities.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas attorney general who survived a historic impeachment trial last year made a Super Tuesday primary a bitter Republican−on−Republican brawl, targeting the House speaker and dozens of other lawmakers who had sought his ouster.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was on the brink of removal from office just six months ago, campaigned to defeat those political rivals in his own party in a test of his own clout and that of his biggest backer, former president Donald Trump.

After Paxton narrowly survived allegations of corruption and abuse of office, the attorney general quickly pivoted to launch fierce, bare−knuckle campaign attacks seeking to rid the GOP−dominated House of those Republicans who backed the impeachment drive.

Paxton found his biggest target in House Speaker Dade Phelan, leader of the attempt, along with more than 30 of Phelan’s Republican House colleagues who voted against the attorney general on the corruption and abuse of office allegations.

Paxton was not on the Super Tuesday ballot himself. He won a third term in 2022. His aim to overthrow the leadership of the House was being widely watched as an attempt to push an already conservative chamber further to the right.

Phelan has led the House through two terms. He fought back on the campaign trail in blunt and often personal terms against Paxton, with ads reminding voters of the corruption and abuse of office allegations that gave rise to the impeachment trial. Additional spots reminded voters of a Paxton extramarital affair.

Besides drawing support for his endorsed candidates from Trump, Paxton’s intensive and broad campaign of political revenge also prompted third−party groups to pour in millions of dollars of donations into the campaign.

Paxton still faces ongoing legal issues. He is scheduled for trial in April on felony securities fraud charges that could land him in prison for 90 years if convicted. He also is facing an ongoing federal probe involving some of the same allegations raised in his impeachment.

Paxton wasn’t the only Republican attacking fellow Republicans in Tuesday’s primaries Gov. Greg Abbott has targeted nearly two dozen incumbents who helped defeat his plan to spend tax money on private schools, putting some lawmakers in the crosshairs of both men as targets for removal.

Paxton also mounted a campaign to oust three female judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals. They were part of an 8−1 majority that stripped Paxton of the power to prosecute voter fraud without permission from local prosecutors. Paxton accused them of being “activist” judges after the court majority ruled the law had been a violation of the state Constitution’s separation of powers.

Judge Barbara Hervey, who was first elected in 2001, was defeated by attorney Gina Parker. Also in Paxton’s sights were Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, who was elected in 1994, and Judge Michelle Slaughter, who was elected in 2018.

“The Court follows the law, period,” Slaughter responded to the attacks in a pre−election post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We cannot and will not be partisan political activists.

Jim Vertuno, The Associated Press

Photo: AP