S.C. in line for additional seat

South Carolina remains on track to pick up a seventh seat in Congress after the final state population estimates were released Wednesday, a necessary step before next year's all-important U.S. Census Bureau head count.

Population trends may change again before Census Day, April 1, 2010, analysts say. But the July 1, 2009, state population estimates show South Carolina tightening its grip on a new seat.

If the U.S. House of Representatives were reapportioned with the July 1 estimates, according to a study by Virginia-based Election Data Services, South Carolina and Washington would join the company of five other states that each would pick up one new congressional seat.

The other states are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Utah. Texas, which gained 478,000 people last year - more than any other state during the past year - would add three new congressional seats, according to the analysis.

"Ten congressional seats in 17 states have already changed at this point in the decade, if a new apportionment was made with the updated numbers," the study said.

With roughly 25,000 people to spare at this point, South Carolina and Washington would gain two seats projected to be lost by Illinois and Ohio, which the study says either have lost population at a faster pace than earlier in the decade, or gained at a slower pace.

"The state of South Carolina is kinda close to the edge," said Kimball Brace, Election Data Services president, "but this year they're not as close to the edge as last year," when Brace's analysis showed just 19,000 people separated South Carolina and the next nearest state from claiming dibs on a new seat in the U.S. Capitol.

South Carolina will know for certain in late 2010 whether it will add a seat. State lawmakers then would have to redraw congressional district lines in 2011 to accommodate an extra U.S. representative.

Politically, it means the race for governor has higher stakes. A Republican governor and a Republican General Assembly would mean lines drawn favoring the GOP. A Democratic governor and a Republican General Assembly would make reapportionment more contentious.

On the basis of population estimates and trends in the state's growth over the past decade, Brace said, the Palmetto State is 433rd in the chase for the House of Representatives' 435 seats.

Each state elects a number of representatives based upon the population it registers in each decade's census count.

Eight states would lose single seats under the new estimates; they are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Ohio would lose two seats.

South Carolina officials said the state has not had seven U.S. representatives since the 1930 census, when it lost a seat.

State demographer Mike MacFarlane said he was surprised by South Carolina's resilience in the population chase, given the economic downturn.

While most of the state's rising population has been due to in-migration, the economy is the key to growth, determining whether businesses come here to expand, or individuals come here to find work.

"I think the direction of the numbers doesn't surprise me. The surprise is that the numbers exceed the count we expected in 2010," MacFarlane said. "The rate of growth is higher than expected, given the conditions we see around us."

The new population estimates project 4,561,242 residents in the state, up from 4,012,012 people in 2000.