Growth to give S.C. 7th seat in Congress

“We came down here for two weeks on the beach about 10 years ago and said ‘To hell with that. We’re not going back to Maine. We found paradise,’ ” said Timothy Worster, who was walking to the Folly Beach pier with his wife Lillian (center) and

South Carolina will gain a seventh congressional seat in two years, expanding its presence in the U.S. House of Representatives to a level not seen since 1930.

The state's 15.3 percent growth rate during the past decade was slightly above the 14.3 growth rate in the South, the nation's fastest-growing region, according to 2010 census data released Tuesday.

South Carolina's population increased in part because of people like Timothy and Lillian Worster, who moved to Charleston several years ago.

"We came down here for two weeks on the beach about 10 years ago and said 'To hell with that. We're not going back to Maine. We found paradise,' " he said.

It's unclear where South Carolina's new congressional district will be drawn -- and how the state's six existing districts will be affected -- but many experts expect that it will be placed along the coast because that's where the state's fastest-growing counties have been.

And that likely will result in significant changes to the 1st Congressional District, where Rep.-elect Tim Scott just won last month. This district, which stretches from Summerville to Charleston to North Myrtle Beach, now has 497,157 registered voters, more than 20,000 more than any other congressional district in the state.

Scott, a Republican, said Tuesday he would rather his district remain the same but he knows that's unlikely.

"It's really hard to determine what will actually happen," he said. "I'm very interested to see where those lines are going to be drawn."

South Carolina's new seat was welcome news in Columbia, where state lawmakers and Gov.-elect Nikki Haley will draw new maps early next year to decide where the new district should go.

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Haley "is extremely excited to see South Carolina gain a congressional seat because she believes who we send to represent us is critically important, and she'll be paying very close attention as the redistricting process moves through the General Assembly."

The newly drawn districts will be scrutinized by state politicians and by the U.S. Justice Department's Voting Rights Division.

In January, five of the state's six districts will be in Republican hands, with only the 6th District, where a majority of voters are black, represented by a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.

S.C. New Democrats President Phil Noble said he is not a demographer, "but it seems to me there ought to be one more competitive seat. It (the new 7th District) ought to be a competitive seat and not a slam-dunk Republican seat."

S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell chalked up the state's population growth to its "natural beauty, positive business climate and status as a right-to-work state."

But there was something else at work as well, said Bobby Bowers, director of research and statistics for the state Budget and Control Board.

"Our (census) response rate last time was only above Alaska, second from the bottom. This time our response was tied with North Carolina for the largest increase," he said. "I am elated."

Charleston alone went from 64 percent of residents mailing back their forms in 2000 to 73 percent this year.

As a result, the state can expect more federal dollars as well as more representatives in Congress. The 2010 census results will be used to distribute more than $400 billion in annual federal aid, Bowers said.

Overall, the nation's population rose from 281.4 million in 2000 to 308.7 million as of April 1, 2010, a 9.7 percent increase that was the second-smallest increase in the past century. The slowest was the decade of the Great Depression.

Texas will gain four new House seats, while Florida will gain two. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Utah and Washington will join South Carolina in gaining one new seat.

Ohio and New York each will lose two House seats, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will lose one.

North Carolina just missed picking up the last House seat, falling short by roughly 15,000 people. And for the first time in its history, Democratic- leaning California will not gain a House seat after a census.

The changes will make President Barack Obama's re- election prospects somewhat more difficult, as most states gaining seats -- and therefore Electoral College votes -- lean Republican. But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not expect the census results to have a "huge practical impact" on national politics.

More specific numbers to be released early next year will shape how state legislature districts are redrawn for the 2012 elections.

The nation's fastest-growing state was Nevada, where the population rose 35.1 percent. At the other extreme was Michigan, which saw its population shrink by 0.6 percent.

The Associated Press and Wade Spees contributed to this report. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.