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State's population increase may add up to a seat in Congress
Slow population growth due to the economy in the south, west has a positive effect here
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Southern and western states are poised to snatch more congressional seats from the rest of the country as Americans pursue open spaces and warmer climates.

The nation's migration west and south has slowed, according to new government population estimates. But states in the Northeast and Midwest are still projected to lose political clout in Washington after the 2010 census, when the nation apportions the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, based on population.

Texas stands to be the biggest winner, picking up as many as four seats, while Ohio could be the big loser, giving up as many as two seats, according to projections by two firms that specialize in political apportionment. California is in danger of losing a seat for the first time since it became a state, though experts disagree on the likelihood of that happening.

The Census Bureau released state population estimates as of July 1, 2008. The data show annual changes through births, deaths and domestic and foreign migration.

Southern and western states are not growing as quickly as they were at the start of the decade, thanks to a housing crisis that is making it hard to buy and sell homes.

"People have stopped moving," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's a big risk when you move to a new place. You need to know that moving and getting a new mortgage is going to pay off for you."

Utah was the fastest growing state, knocking Nevada from the top ranks. Utah's population climbed by 2.5 percent from July 2007 to July 2008. It was followed by Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado. Nevada was ranked eighth, after 23 years of ranking in the top four each year.

Nevada was listed as the fastest growing state a year ago when the 2007 estimates were released. But adjustments to the 2007 numbers, released Monday, show that Utah was the fastest growing state in 2007 and Nevada was ranked fourth.

Only two states - Michigan and Rhode Island - lost population from 2007 to 2008, according to the new estimates. But growth rates fell in many states, even for those that had been adding residents at a rapid clip.

Florida has attracted more people from outside its borders than any other state in the nation since the start of the decade. However, from 2007 to 2008, more people left Florida for other states than moved in - a net loss of nearly 9,300 people. The state still gained population from births and foreign immigration, but growth was slower than in previous years.

Nevertheless, Florida is expected to gain at least one seat in Congress, and perhaps two, following the 2010 census, said Kim Brace of Election Data Services, a Virginia-based firm that crunches political numbers.

Brace projects Arizona to add two seats, while Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah could add one each. States projected to lose single seats are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Clark Bensen of Polidata, another Virginia firm that specializes in redistricting, made similar projections, with a few changes. Bensen projects Oregon to pick up a seat, and says California probably won't lose one.
Numerous other House seats are in play, depending on whether the nation's economic problems continue to affect population trends. As many as 13 states could gain or lose seats, depending on population trends over the next two years and the accuracy of the 2010 census, Brace said.

Seats in Congress also determine the number of electoral votes states have in presidential elections.
California illustrates the importance of an accurate head count. The Census Bureau estimates California has fewer than 37 million people, putting it in danger of losing a House seat. State demographers, however, put the population at more than 38 million, taking the seat out of play.

"If I was somebody in charge of one of the states sitting on the edge, I would be thinking about how I could improve the census in my state, because it does have an impact," Brace said.