Millions of dollars flood Texas President Dade Phelan’s runoff election

Image of two men.

New figures show record spending in the upcoming Republican runoff election between embattled Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and his rival David Covey. (Getty Images/Covey Campaign)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Early voting for the May 28 runoff elections in Texas is underway, with millions of dollars flooding into races between incumbent Republicans and their rivals in the Texas House of Representatives.

This influx of money is particularly notable in the closely watched race for House Speaker Dade Phelan. The speaker’s runoff election is emblematic of a power struggle within the Texas Republican Party between the old guard and the new, representative of a broader national struggle.

“This is undoubtedly one of the most costly primary challenges. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case across the United States and particularly in a runoff,” said Emily Sydnor, a politics professor at Southwestern University.

New documents filed Tuesday by the Texas Ethics Commission show Phelan has raised $3.44 million since Feb. 25. She has also spent $4 million trying to keep her position and has $1.56 million in cash on hand.

Republican activist David Covey pushed Phelan into a runoff election after the March primary and is part of an effort by other conservatives seeking to reshape the Texas House of Representatives. It’s a shift that mirrors what’s happening in the Republican Party nationally, as the business-minded establishment faces growing challenges from more “Trumpian”-style Republicans motivated more by conservative social issues.

In the same period, Covey raised $1.68 million, spent $1.58 million, and has $226,000 left in his war chest.

“I think this has been an interesting pattern over the last year or maybe even longer in Texas, as the Texas Republican Party tries to figure out what kind of conservatism they want to defend,” Sydnor said.

Phelan’s biggest donor in this latest fundraising period was the Texas Defense Fund, a PAC backed by Las Vegas casino group owner Miriam Adelson. Her other major donors include the Associated Republicans of Texas campaign fund and Plano homebuilder Rod Sanders.

Covey’s top donors include Amarillo businessman Alex Fairly, the Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC led by West Texas billionaire Tim Dunn, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s campaign.

“If you’re trying to push the party in a particular direction, (you) present primary challenges that are going to move the issues and the conversation and the actual potential legislation to the right or to the left, and depending on which party we are on. “We’re talking,” Sydnor said of the party’s primary strategy.

Early voting continues until Friday and the second round is scheduled for next Tuesday.