RALEIGH — Democratic U.S. Rep. Wiley Nickel said last week 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 Nickel said he is interested in a U.S. Senate bid in an election that is almost 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.
“Here in North Carolina, Republicans have rigged the system to favor themselves, and I do not have a path for re-election in the 13th District. But I’m not giving up and neither should you,” Nickel told supporters at an event in Cary.
Nickel, a lawyer and state senator from Cary before his 2022 victory, said he would now work next year to help get Democrats elected up and down the ballot and talk about what he considers illegal gerrymandering.
“Then for me, in January 2025, I’m going to look to flip our U.S. Senate seat blue,” Nickel said to cheers from supporters, adding that legislative Repubilcans “can’t gerrymander a statewide election.”
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 before his speech, Nickel said he planned to file paperwork soon with the Federal Election Commission to shift his House campaign committee to a Senate committee. But he declined to say that he had already decided to run in 2026. A Nickel news release said that he would “explore a path forward” in the Senate.
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 as outside the courts’ purview, 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.
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 succeeds.
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.