December 21, 2010 at 10:19 PM EST - Updated June 23 at 3:39 AM
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina gained enough new residents over the past decade to add a seventh congressional seat in 2012, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday that will give Republicans state lawmakers a chance to shore up GOP gains made this fall.
The state grew by 15.3 percent to 4.6 million residents in the past 10 years, according to the data.
In all, the U.S. population hit 308.7 million, reflecting the lowest growth since the Great Depression, and an increase of 9.7 percent over the 2000 U.S. resident population of 281.4 million, said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves.
Neighboring Georgia also is picking up a congressional seat, while Florida is adding two. North Carolina also grew, but not enough for an additional seat. Texas was the biggest winner with four.
The majority party in each state's legislature redraws the election map, though federal oversight, court precedent and generally a legal challenge follow. State House and state Senate lines also see changes each decade.
In South Carolina, Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governor's office, which could make the effort less contentious than in the past. In 1990, a Republican governor vetoed the plan drawn by a Democrat-controlled Legislature, and a Democratic governor nixed a GOP plan in 2000.
Joel Sawyer, executive director of the state GOP, said the additional seat means South Carolina will have a greater voice in Congress, and in this red state, that likely means more Republican influence.
"I feel very confident about our ability to pick up an additional Republican congressman when this process is all said and done," he said.
Beginning in February, the Census Bureau will release population and race breakdowns down to the neighborhood level for states to redraw congressional boundaries.
Republicans already have an eye on population estimates that show South Carolina's growth has been heaviest in four counties: York, just south of Charlotte, N.C.; and Horry, Beaufort and Charleston along the coast, according to Wesley Donehue, political director for the state Senate GOP caucus.
That indicates a new district could be carved from the coast as the current 5th District seat becomes more Republican. Last month, freshman state GOP Sen. Mick Mulvaney ousted the state's longest-serving congressman, Democratic Rep. John Spratt, from that seat.
The Legislature has to pass a redistricting plan and allow time for a U.S. Justice Department review and a likely lawsuit, which anyone could file, before the February 2012 presidential primary, said Bobby Bowers, research director for the state Budget and Control Board and chairman of the South Carolina Complete Count Committee.
Justice Department approval is needed because of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which would not allow a move that could hamper the influence of the state's minority voters, Bowers said. South Carolina is about 30 percent African-American.
The November election left U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who is black, as the state's lone Democrat in Congress, representing a 6th District that is the lone one with majority African-American voters.
Tim Scott, a black Republican, is heading to Congress to represent the 1st District, which is majority white.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler said it would be possible to draw a second so-called majority-minority district, but a swing district also could be created.
"They could draw it so it's possible for a Democrat to win, not predetermined to be one party of the other," she said. "It is not necessary to draw six Republican seats. I think the voters would prefer to choose their own congressman, not to have him elected in the Republican primary."
South Carolina lost a seventh congressional seat after the 1930 census.
Electoral College votes are based on the number of U.S. Senate and U.S. House seats in each state. Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist and poll director, said seven new Electoral College votes in the South also elevate South Carolina's importance in presidential politics because of its first-in-the-nation Republican presidential primary.
"We are the first test of Southern conservatism," he said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. Photo source Bob Nicolai/WCSC.