Democrat Wiley Nickel to leave Congress after N.C. redistricting, teeing up 2026 Senate run

Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel will not run for re-election in his home state of North Carolina in 2024, instead opting to explore a run for U.S. Senate in 2026 after a GOP-led redistricting drastically changed his seat.

“Republicans have rigged the system to favor themselves and I don’t have a path to run for re-election in the 13th District,” Nickel said in a statement, referencing redistricting in his state that fundamentally changed the demographic and partisan makeup of the statewide map. “But I’m not giving up and neither should you. 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.”

GOP leaders in the state legislature “can’t gerrymander a statewide election,” Nickel continued.

Nickel’s is the latest in a string of departures from this Congress, with several recent retirements coming from North Carolina’s Democratic House delegation, specifically, after new electoral maps were put in place in October. Rep. Jeff Jackson has forgone his own re-election to run for statewide office in 2024, and Rep. Kathy Manning also opted not to run again.

But the decision from Nickel — a moderate, first-term member who turned his seat blue in a razor-thin 2022 race — also tees up a lengthy battle for one of North Carolina’s Republican-held Senate seats, which will not be on the ballot until 2026.

Should Nickel win the Democratic nomination, he’d likely face off against incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican who has earned a reputation in Washington as someone willing to work in bipartisan fashion on big-ticket policy pushes, including voting rights and gun violence prevention. That race would be among the marquee contests of the 2026 election cycle.

But for now, Republicans are celebrating a clear shot at Nickel’s House seat.

“Wiley Nickel just gave Republicans an early Christmas gift with another pickup in the battle for the House majority. Democrats’ climb out of the minority is getting steeper every day,” NRCC spokesperson Delanie Bomar said in a statement.