RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Democratic state Sen. Wiley Nickel defeated Republican political newcomer Bo Hines for an open U.S. House seat in a competitive district along Raleigh’s southern border, marking one of Democrats' few major successes in the Southern swing state.
With Nickel's win in the 13th District, and another Democratic victory in the new 14th District, North Carolina Democrats flipped one seat and gained another, bringing the state's representation in Congress to a 7-7 tie.
Nickel, who has served Raleigh and nearby Cary in the state Senate since 2019, will represent the urban, suburban and rural communities of the newly redrawn and relocated 13th District.
“I got into this to build a better world for my kids, and that’s the message that we took to every voter in this district,” Nickel said in a speech Tuesday night.
His opponent, a 27-year-old former college football player who had former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, had relocated to the district from Winston-Salem just a month before the May primary.
“I want to congratulate Wiley Nickel,” Hines said Tuesday night. “I hope he loves this community as much as I do.”
North Carolina Republicans held eight seats heading into this year, and Democrats held five. But several districts in this election cycle bore little resemblance to their previous iterations after a lengthy redistricting battle scrambled the state’s congressional map to account for the new fourteenth seat it was awarded following the 2020 census.
Regarded as one of the nation’s few battlegrounds for congressional control, the 13th stretches from the southern border of the capital city beltline to the farm land outside Goldsboro.
Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, North Carolina’s new senator-elect, is vacating the seat, but the 13th he currently represents shares no common ground with its new form. The recent relocation situated the state’s marquee race between Nickel and Hines in uncharted territory for both parties.
The two spent the campaign cycle accusing the other of extreme views while trying to paint themselves as moderate enough to represent the district's diverse constituency.
At a polling location in Holly Springs, a Raleigh suburb that epitomizes the district’s narrow partisan divide, voters said they are less focused on the individual candidates and more focused on the national parties’ agendas.
Mark Swanson, a 50-year-old unaffiliated voter who cast his ballot for Nickel, said he doesn’t believe Republican control of Congress will improve the economy, noting that the pandemic illuminated long-term flaws in the global supply chain.
“I can’t vote Republican right now,” Swanson said. “What’s their solution to anything? They just complain about the economy stuff but, what, tax cuts and deregulation is going to solve all those problems? It’s not true. They’ve been doing that for years and it hasn’t done a damn thing.”
Aaron Wenzel, a 47-year-old registered Republican who voted for Hines, said he tends to support Republican candidates for federal offices and Democratic candidates for school board. The father of two said he thinks Hines is the right candidate to represent his “fiscally conservative perspective” at the national level but that Democrats’ ambitious spending goals are needed at the local level to bring North Carolina’s public schools “up to par.”
North Carolina Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards also defeated Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara to win an open U.S. House seat in the western North Carolina district currently represented by GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn, whom Edwards beat in the primary.
The 11th District includes the progressive arts hub of Asheville tucked between many of the state’s deep red mountain towns bordering Tennessee and Georgia.
Edwards, 62, of Flat Rock, North Carolina, has served in the state Senate since 2016. His opponent, a two-term Buncombe County Commissioner and ordained minister, would have been the first out LGBTQ person elected to a federal office from North Carolina.
In the northeast corner of the state along the Virginia border, Democratic state Sen. Don Davis defeated Republican Sandy Smith for an open U.S. House seat in the 1st District. Retiring Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield has represented the left-leaning district since 2004. He endorsed Davis as his successor.
Davis, a former Air Force officer, minister and the former mayor of Snow Hill, North Carolina, has served in the state Senate since 2013. His opponent, an entrepreneur and business executive who had Trump’s endorsement, also lost to Butterfield in the 2020 election.
And in the new left-leaning 14th District, based in western Charlotte, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson defeated Republican businessman Pat Harrigan for the state's newest seat.
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at @H_Schoenbaum.
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