NC Democrat Wiley Nickel leaving House over redistricting, but is eyeing 2026 challenge to Sen. Tillis

Democratic U.S. Rep. Wiley Nickel said Thursday he won’t seek reelection to Congress next year, the result of congressional redistricting by Republican state legislators this fall that’s likely to shift North Carolina’s delegation to the right. And he said he’ll consider a U.S. Senate bid for an election that would be nearly three years away.

The decision by the first-term congressman on the day before candidate filing ends for the March primary means three incumbent House Democrats from North Carolina won’t run in 2024. Each of them blamed the reconfigured lines by GOP lawmakers — now the subject of litigation — that they say make it futile for them to run.

Democratic Reps. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte and Kathy Manning of Greensboro already said they wouldn’t seek reelection. Nickel’s decision should benefit national Republicans in their efforts to retain a U.S. House majority in 2025.

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“Republicans have rigged the system to favor themselves and I don’t have a path to run for re-election in the 13th district. But I’m not giving up and neither should you,” Nickel said in a news release provided by Nickel’s campaign committee and geared to supporters. He planned a formal public announcement later Thursday.

The release said Nickel, a lawyer and state senator from Cary before his 2022 victory, would now work next year to help get Democrats elected up and down the ballot, “fight to end partisan gerrymandering, and explore a path forward in the U.S. Senate.” 2026 is the next time a Senate seat is scheduled for North Carolina ballots. GOP Sen. Thom Tillis currently holds that seat.

In a text, Nickel said that while he is looking at a Senate bid, he also planned to file paperwork soon with the Federal Election Commission to shift his House campaign committee to a Senate committee. Nickel, 48, said he expected to tour the state in 2024 to talk about gerrymandering.

The 2022 elections were conducted under a map for the state’s 14 congressional seats drawn by state judges that resulted in Democrats and Republicans winning seven seats each. One of the seven belongs to Nickel, who narrowly won in the closely competitive Raleigh-area 13th District.

But the Republican-dominated General Assembly, emboldened by a state Supreme Court ruling that tossed out previous partisan gerrymandering claims, enacted a map that made it likely for the GOP to win at least 10 of the 14 seats, according to election data.

The recalibrated 13th Congressional District is now considered a strongly leaning Republican district and two other districts adjoining the 13th are heavily Democratic and where Democratic incumbents Deborah Ross and Valerie Foushee are seeking reelection.

At least 10 Republicans have filed as candidates for the new 13th District, which, while still including parts of Raleigh, wraps around Wake County and stretches north to the Virginia border and south into several rural counties.

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Jackson, the 14th District incumbent, is running instead for state attorney general. Manning, who currently represents the 6th District, said last week that she would change her mind and run again for Congress should litigation alleging the retooled 6th District is an illegal racial gerrymander is successful.

Nickel has been particularly vocal about the congressional map, declaring that litigation was needed to strike it down.

More than 20 Black and Latino voters sued over the 6th and three other congressional districts earlier this month, but it appears unlikely that any resolution of the lawsuit will occur in time to delay the congressional primary elections. Absentee ballots for the primary start getting mailed to requesters on Jan. 19.

Republicans backing U.S. House candidates were pleased with Nickel’s departure.

“Wiley Nickel just gave Republicans an early Christmas gift with another pickup in the battle for the House majority,” Delanie Bomar, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a news release.

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