WASHINGTON – Southern and Western states are growing so much faster than the rest of the country that several are expected to grab House seats from the Northeast and Midwest when Congress is reapportioned in 2010.
Demographers and political analysts project that Texas and Florida could each gain as many as three House seats. Ohio and New York could lose as many as two seats apiece.
Several other states could gain or lose single seats.
"The states in the Midwest are going through a transition," said Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett. "We're going from a heavy manufacturing economic base to a more service-oriented base, and that transition has been very painful."
"But if you ever banned air conditioning," Bennett added, "I think people would flock back."
The projections are based on state population estimates by the Census Bureau. The bureau released its July 2005 estimates Thursday, showing that Nevada grew at a faster rate than any other state for the 19th consecutive year, followed by Arizona, Idaho, Florida and Utah.
Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts lost population, as did the District of Columbia. The populations of North Dakota, Ohio and Michigan grew, but at a slower rate than others.
Overall, the country grew by 0.9 percent in the past year, to about 296.4 million people.
Every 10 years, the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are divided among the states based on population counts in the census. The numbers also are used to divvy up votes in the Electoral College, used in presidential elections.
Clark Bensen of Polidata, a Virginia firm that crunches political data, said population shifts over the past 65 years have dramatically changed the regional makeup of Congress.
In 1940, Northeastern and Midwestern states had a total of 251 seats in the House, compared with 184 for states in the South and West. Today, Southern and Western states have the edge, 252-183.
"Basically, it took two generations to have a complete shifting of the power base," Bensen said.
Texas has been a big beneficiary of the shift in political power, making a Supreme Court fight over the boundaries of its congressional districts even more important, said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas.Republicans redrew the boundaries in 2003 after taking control of the state legislature, and then gained six House seats in the 2004 elections. Democrats and minority voting groups sued.
"You nail down Texas and you have a growth engine for your political party," Buchanan said.
Kim Brace of Election Data Services, a firm that also crunches political numbers, said population shifts can affect the regional issues that preoccupy Washington.
"The old industrial-era towns and their particular issues are no longer holding as much sway in Congress," Brace said. "There are less people speaking their message."
Water access and land management, big issues in the West and Southwest, could get even more attention in the future, Brace said.
One state that could use more influence in Congress could actually lose a seat.
Bensen and Brace agreed that current data -- collected before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast -- shows Louisiana in danger of losing one of its seven House seats.
Since the storm, thousands of people have been dispersed throughout the region and beyond, making it even more likely the state will lose a seat, Bensen said.