Adelson-Backed Texas House Speaker Holds Off Primary Foe

(Bloomberg) -- Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan held off a primary challenge with help from conservative mega-donor Miriam Adelson, whose family gambling empire has been pushing to legalize casinos in the state.

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Phelan defeated challenger David Covey in a Republican runoff on Tuesday by fewer than 400 votes, foiling the effort to unseat the leader of the state’s House of Representatives for the first time in more than half a century.

The primary was the latest flare-up in a feud within the Texas Republican party. Covey ran with backing from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who endorsed the challenger after Phelan supported Paxton’s impeachment on corruption and bribery charges.

Covey’s backers also included some conservative activists who have tried to move the state’s Republicans further to the right, including Timothy Dunn, the oil industry billionaire who has financed primary challenges to politicians he views as insufficiently conservative.

He also had backing from former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Covey in January and criticized Phelan for supporting Paxton’s impeachment and failing to investigate Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud in Texas.

Arrayed behind Phelan were more traditional Republican donors, including Adelson, the widow of the Las Vegas Sands casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

“Our community is not for sale, and our values are not up for auction,” Phelan said in a post on X Tuesday night, after Covey conceded. He added that “no amount of external pressure can erode a foundation built on community trust and proven results.”

Paxton blamed Phelan’s victory on support from registered Democrats who voted in the state’s open primary. “Tonight, weak and liberal Republican incumbents lost across the State of Texas,” he wrote, “but Democrats swooped in and saved Dade Phelan.”

The contest split some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. Adelson put $877,000 behind Phelan, donating $50,000 herself with the balance coming from two political action committees she funds. One of them, Texas Defense PAC, spent more than $510,000 on ads that accused Covey of being a puppet of the same donors who supported Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who mounted unsuccessful campaigns for Senate in 2018 and governor in 2022.

Phelan also got $150,000 from Fidelis Realty Partners Ltd’s Alan Hassenflu, $100,000 from Energy Transfer founder Kelcy Warren, who co-hosted an event on May 22 to raise money for Trump’s super PAC; and $75,000 from real estate developer Harlan Crow.

Covey had the backing of Dunn, one of the biggest donors in Texas politics, who also gave $5 million at the end of 2023 to Trump’s allied super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc. Texans United for a Conservative Majority, which has gotten 69% of its money from Dunn since 2023, spent $845,000 backing Covey’s campaign. Alex Fairly, an Amarillo, Texas-based risk consultant and insurance broker, donated $700,000. Lieutenant Governor Patrick’s campaign kicked in another $119,000.

Even as the challenge to Phelan fell short, other primaries of sitting Republican lawmakers proved successful, likely giving Governor Greg Abbott the support he needs to push a proposed school voucher measure through the state legislature.

(Updates with Trump’s support of Covey in fifth paragraph)

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