Defying regional population trends, Minnesota gained just enough residents between 2000 and 2010 to hang onto all eight of its congressional seats, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

Minnesota had 5,303,925 residents as of April 1. Adding nearly 385,000 residents, the state grew almost twice as fast as the rest of the Midwest. Neighboring Iowa and seven other northern states lost representation to states in the south and west.

The decade marked a return, in many respects, to more moderate growth patterns of the 1970s and '80s.

State Demographer Tom Gillaspy said only about 8,000 residents prevented Minnesota from losing its eighth seat to North Carolina. The state's high rate of census participation, second only to Wisconsin, was likely to have played a key role.

"It's like our Christmas present; I'm feeling pretty good about it," he said. "We knew it was going to be close."

Next up: Redrawing congressional district lines to reflect population shifts within the state, a contentious job that often has ended up in court.

The split between the Republican-controlled Legislature and incoming DFL Gov. Mark Dayton could make it difficult to agree on a plan. On Tuesday both parties pledged cooperation.

"I'm delighted ... that Minnesota will retain all eight congressional seats. That's very important to our state," Dayton said after meeting with state House Republican leaders.

"Amen. Amen," piped in incoming Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

Slow and steady keeps seat

Minnesota's gain of 384,446 residents since 2000 gave the state a 7.8 percent gain from the past decade. That's slower than the national increase of 9.7 percent but faster than all but South Dakota among northern states from the Dakotas to Maine. Michigan lost population in the past decade.

"Minnesota has been one of the leaders in the 'frost belt' since World War II," Gillaspy said. "We have good jobs, strong economic growth, high wages. ... Our manufacturing tends to be a little different. Michigan does cars; we do pacemakers."

University of Minnesota geography Prof. John Fraser Hart called Minnesota "an island of stability in the depopulating Midwest."

"Not flashy, but sort of the old workhorse that keeps up and is doing its bit," Hart said.

The state's push for people to complete and return census forms may have been a deciding factor in the state keeping its congressional seats.

Officials mounted campaigns to make sure snowbirds reported from their primary residence in Minnesota and immigrant communities understood the importance of the count. The census even had a booth at the 2009 State Fair. Special efforts were made to reach people in prison, nursing homes and college residence halls.

The result, Gillaspy said, was that Minnesota had an 80 percent census return rate, second only to Wisconsin.

Minnesota's population growth during the 2000s represented a slowdown from the 12.4 percent jump in the 1990s. Gillaspy said the state is returning to demographic patterns it had before job growth exploded in the 1990s. Despite much faster growth in southern and western states, Minnesota remained the 21st-most-populous state.

Minnesota has not lost a congressional seat to reapportionment since 1960. During that time, Wisconsin lost two seats, Iowa four, Michigan five and Illinois seven.

Does Minnesota's perch at the bottom of the list of states that held their congressional seats mean that it's inevitable that it will lose one in 2020? Gillaspy said not necessarily.

"Clearly there are issues with future development in the Southeast and Southwest, one of them being water," he said. "So much depends on technology, and depends on what we do here."

Dollars tied to population

Census data are used not only for reapportionment but also to distribute billions in federal dollars for roads, bridges, health care and other needs. The state bases many of its funding formulas on population.

In February the Census Bureau is expected to release 2010 population figures for counties, cities and townships. State political leaders will use those numbers to redistrict, or draw new electoral district boundaries to reflect population changes.

Senate DFL leader Tom Bakk said Tuesday that he would recommend to Dayton that he appoint a citizen's commission with members from across the political spectrum to take ideas and suggest a redistricting plan to the Legislature. He suggested that no legislators sit on the panel.

Michael Brodkorb, the Republican Party's redistricting point person, said his party is "committed to developing a fair redistricting plan which recognizes recent demographic changes that have occurred in Minnesota and gives minorities the best opportunity for representation."

The demographic changes to which he's alluding? Population growth in Republican-leaning exurbs and losses in Democratic-leaning urban areas and the Iron Range.

Republican partisans have made clear their desire to consolidate the Twin Cities' two liberal congressional districts into one. Democrats have signaled a desire to carve up the state's most conservative district, the suburban enclave represented by Tea Party stalwart Michele Bachmann.

Bachmann spokesman Doug Sachtleben said only that the Stillwater Republican is "happy that Minnesota is keeping its eight House seats and she looks forward to a redrawing of district lines that is as fair as possible."

Staff writers Jeremy Herb and Kevin Diaz contributed to this report. Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380