Stephanie Warsmith and Rick Armon
Beacon Journal staff writers
Count the Buckeye State among the biggest losers in the 2010 census.
Ohio is one of only two states that will lose a pair of congressional seats because the population here grew at a slower pace than in southern and western states, census leaders announced Tuesday.
And the census isn't only about political clout. Ohio could see less federal cash and fewer business investments as well.
Census data determine how the federal government distributes $400 billion each year to states for issues ranging from education to transportation. Companies also use the information to identify new markets and make capital investments.
''Indeed, the 2010 census will serve as a backbone for our political and economic system for years to come,'' U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said.
That's not good news for Ohio, where the population grew by only 183,000 people to 11.5 million. The state has 18 congressional districts, and that will drop to 16 down from a high of 24 in the 1960s.
Ohio had the fourth worst population growth among states at 1.6 percent, behind only Louisiana, Rhode Island and Michigan.
New York, where the population grew 2.1 percent, was the other state that will lose two congressional districts. Michigan saw its population drop 0.6 percent the only state to experience a decline. It will lose one seat in the U.S. House.
Texas gained the most seats, with four.
Overall, the census bureau estimated the nation's population at 308.7 million, up from 281 million in the 2000 census.
In Ohio, Democrats stand to lose the most because Republicans who swept the state elections in November control the process of redrawing the congressional districts.
Conventional wisdom says they'll target seats Democrats now hold.
''I'd be shocked if they didn't do that,'' Democratic strategist Gerald Austin said.
But it might not be that easy.
In November, Democrats lost five out of 10 U.S. House seats they currently hold in Ohio. The remaining five are tightly packed into an area that stretches from Toledo through Cleveland and into Youngstown. That doesn't give Republicans a lot of room to maneuver.
''We have to be realistic,'' said Bob Bennett, former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. ''Can we really take the Democrats down to three seats in Ohio?''
It might make more sense, he said, to eliminate one Democratic and one Republican district while also shoring up GOP-held districts that are typically toss-ups.
''My fear is that we try to do too much,'' Bennett said. ''If we do it right, we can minimize those future losses.''
Among the Ohio Democrats in Congress whose districts could be targeted are Cleveland's Dennis Kucinich and Betty Sutton, who represents suburban Cleveland and the Akron area.
Both are in areas that have lost population in the past decade.
If Republicans are aggressive, they might decide to combine Sutton's and Kucinich's districts, said Jason Johnson, a political science professor at Hiram College.
Kucinich might not ''play that well'' in Sutton's district, and voters in Kucinich's district might not be that familiar with Sutton, Johnson said.
''They would have a chance of knocking out her or him,'' he said. ''She's more likely to get knocked out. This would drag him away from Cleveland and give him less of a platform.''
Johnson predicts the GOP will focus on Northeast Ohio and the districts Sutton, Kucinich, Tim Ryan and Marcia Fudge hold because this area is ''solidly blue.''
Summit County is now broken into three congressional districts, with Sutton, D-Copley Twp., representing the western portion; Ryan, D-Niles, having the eastern portion; and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Twp., claiming the northern section.
Sutton, who did not make herself available for an interview, said in an e-mail that redistricting will ''play itself out.'' She said she is focused on doing her job.
Ryan also wasn't available but issued a statement saying he expects district boundaries to change.
''Still, I am confident that my work in Washington and proven record of support for economic development, job creation, and innovation in northeastern Ohio will continue to be supported by the residents of my district no matter where the boundaries are eventually drawn,'' he said.
LaTourette did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans will have the upper hand in deciding both the federal and state districts.
The newly Republican-controlled state legislature and GOP Gov.-elect John Kasich will redraw the congressional boundaries, while the Ohio Apportionment Board will decide the lines of the 99 Ohio House and 33 state Senate seats.
With the GOP sweep of statewide seats, the party will control the apportionment board, which is made up of the governor, secretary of state, auditor and two members chosen by state legislative leaders one Democrat and one Republican.
Lt. Gov.-elect Mary Taylor, who would have been a member of the apportionment board if she had remained auditor, wasn't surprised by Ohio's loss of two congressional seats.
''It's unfortunate that we are not growing like other states,'' she said Tuesday during an editorial board interview at the Beacon Journal. ''Hopefully, we can turn that around and become a state people are coming back to, instead of leaving.''
As for how her party would handle the redistricting process, she said they will ''keep areas of common interest,'' while also considering ''what would be more difficult to win by.''
''It's too soon and is not my place to comment on what may or may not exist at the end,'' she said.
For a breakdown of the state-by-state census results, go to http://www.census.gov.