Rather than seek a second House term in a redrawn district next year, Rep. Wiley Nickel said Thursday he will explore running for Senate in 2026.
Nickel is the third Democrat from North Carolina to decide not to run for another term after Republicans redrew House districts in October to give the GOP a better advantage in 2024. Rep. Kathy Manning announced her retirement on Dec. 7, while Rep. Jeff Jackson said Oct. 26 he would run for state attorney general. The filing deadline for candidates to run next year is Friday.
“Republicans have rigged the system to favor themselves and I don’t have a path to run for reelection in the 13th District. But I’m not giving up and neither should you,” Nickel said in a statement ahead of a news conference in Cary, N.C. “Next year, I’m going to be working to elect North Carolina Democrats up and down the ballot in 2024. Then, in January I’m going to look to flip our U.S. Senate seat blue.”
The 13th District that elected Nickel in 2022 voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by about 2 percentage points in 2020. Voters in the district as drawn for 2024, however, would have backed Trump over Biden by 58 percent to 41 percent. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales now rates the race for the seat next year as Likely Republican.
Nickel said Republicans in the state legislature “can’t gerrymander a statewide election.” Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who won his second term in 2020 by less than 2 percentage points, will be up for reelection in 2026.
A former state senator, Nickel has tried to position himself as a moderate during his first term. He is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, the Blue Dogs and the Problem Solvers Caucus. He sits on the Financial Services Committee.
Nickel was first elected to the House in 2022, flipping a seat that had been held by now-Sen. Ted Budd after the state’s congressional map was ordered redrawn by the state’s top court. Nickel defeated Republican Bo Hines by 3 percentage points. Hines is now running in the 6th District, where he faces former Rep. Mark Walker in a Republican primary.
Legal challenges have hung over redistricting in North Carolina for several years. The map used in 2022 resulted from a court challenge to a Republican gerrymander and produced a delegation with seven Democrats and seven Republicans. But earlier this year, the state Supreme Court — after an election that changed the court’s makeup — overturned a previous ruling that made partisan gerrymandering illegal. That gave Republicans, who hold majorities in the state legislature, the power to redraw maps in a way that would give them a chance to win as many as 11 of the state’s 14 districts next year.
Democrats sued Dec. 4 to challenge the latest map.