Last week, I wrote about signs of the South's growing influence in U.S. politics. Since that post, two Southern primaries -- Florida and South Carolina, representing different facets of the fast-changing South -- have transformed the 2008 campaign, disposing of three once-formidable candidates (Edwards, Giuliani and Thompson).

Florida and South Carolina were decisive not only because of where they fell in the 2008 primary calendar; part of the message was also that if they can't do well here in the South, it's time to call it quits.

But with two big Southern primaries over, what will happen after the circus tents of the primaries close down?

Once again, in both parties there will be the usual calls to forget the South: for Democrats, because it's not considered a safe investment; for Republicans, because it's too much of a sure thing.

But recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the South can't be ignored. The South is growing faster than any other region in the country (closely followed by Western states) -- a trend that will dramatically increase its political clout after the new Census in two years. As the AP reports:

Fast-growing Southern states could gain nine new congressional seats after the 2010 census, largely at the expense of their neighbors to the north, judging from the latest government data.

Georgia and North Carolina' delegations in the U.S. House would overtake New Jersey's, for example, while Florida would catch up with New York, according to projections based on a July 2007 population snapshot released by the Census Bureau last month.

Texas would be the biggest gainer, while a handful of Western states such as Arizona and Nevada could also grab new seats.

The AP offers more detail about who will gain Congressional and Electoral College votes -- at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest:

The recent population estimates show that the South grew faster than any other region from July 2006 to July 2007, closely followed by the West.

Depending on what happens in the next few years, Texas could gain as many as four additional seats, according to projections from Election Data Services and Polidata, another national consulting firm. Florida could pick up two, while Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina could add one each. Louisiana remains in danger of dropping a seat after population losses from Hurricane Katrina [...]

New York and Ohio could be the biggest losers, dropping two seats each, with Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and California possibly dropping one seat each.

Most importantly, the South's growth is bring driven by trends that make it more politically competitive, such as a burgeoning Latino and new immigrant population.

The political future of the country is in the South (and West). So the question facing both parties in 2008 is: if they make the political calculation to ignore the region now, what will be the consequences for their long-term viability?

Consider this: governors up for election this year will help shape how their states' new districts will be apportioned after the 2010 census -- ignore those states, and you could lose the political clout that comes with redistricting (remember Texas? or Georgia?).

Neither party can ignore the South -- and how the South's growth, and how it's growing, will transform U.S. politics in the future. The challenge on both sides will be making sure decisions made in the short-term for political expediency won't sacrifice their chances at long-term success.