LANCASTER, S.C. — Silver-haired Bruce Miller is one face of a changing South Carolina.
Charles Harris is another.
Miller, 65, is a feisty white Philadelphian. He's among a wave of affluent retirees who've settled in Sun City Carolina Lakes, a sprawling new "lifestyle" community in Lancaster County.
Harris is a 53-year-old African-American who lives 30 miles down the road.
After 35 years at a Lancaster textile mill, he lost his job to global competition. He was among the last South Carolina workers for a company that once employed 14,000 people in the state.
One county. Two races. Two men. Their diverging fortunes help define the economic and political dynamics of this small southern state, which could have an oversized impact on the 2008 presidential race.
"We are a state of contrasts," said political scientist Scott Huffmon of Rock Hill's Winthrop University. "The birth pains of the new South Carolina economy are long and tortuous."
In upstate South Carolina, around Greenville and Spartanburg, BMWs and Michelin tires roll off assembly lines. Down in Charleston, workers build the wide bodies of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliners. Elsewhere along the coast, snowbirds flock to broad beaches and an ever-expanding assortment of golf courses. Upscale subdivisions sprout in suburbs around the state.
At the same time, old textile towns such as Lancaster cope with the loss of their largest employers, and in a swath of eastern counties, known as the "Corridor of Shame," schools remain largely segregated and economic opportunities are few. Students in Dillon County still attend class in a dilapidated school that was built in 1896.
"The old slave belt is still characterized by persistent poverty," said Columbia businessman Bud Ferillo, a former deputy lieutenant governor who produced a documentary to call attention to the "Corridor of Shame."
South Carolina's contrasts extend to politics.
Republicans, who vote Jan. 19, have an electorate that mixes military veterans and Bible Belt evangelicals with conservatives more interested in economic than social issues. In the Democratic primary a week later, about half the voters will be African-Americans, and a majority of those will be women.
"We probably have, unfortunately, the most racially segregated political party system in the nation," Ferillo said. "The interests of the two (parties) are decidedly different."
In 1960, only three states had a higher percentage of native-born residents than South Carolina did. Now, around 150,000 newcomers pour into South Carolina every year, according to Pat Mason, the founder of a marketing firm called the Center for Carolina Living. Their median household income is $119,000 — triple the statewide average.
The immigrants are a diverse group, too: More African-Americans are retiring to Orangeburg County than to any other non-metro area in the country.
Larry Rowland of Beaufort has watched the changes in the coastal Low Country, where Spanish moss drapes gnarled oaks and historic homes are being born again with granite countertops and whirlpool tubs.
"I've lived here for 50 years, and my mother's family for 300 years, and this place has never been as prosperous," said Rowland. "It's just an astonishing bonanza."
A retired history professor, Rowland said that the retirees moving to the nearby Hilton Head region are "a different breed" of Republicans.
"They call them Hilton Head Republicans," he said. "It's not the old Strom Thurmond Republican Party."
South Carolina's modern Republican Party began taking shape in the 1960s when Thurmond and other conservative Democrats bolted their party in reaction to the civil rights movement. Its hold over the state strengthened in the 1980s with the popularity of Ronald Reagan and later, Gov. Carroll Campbell.
Though voters don't register by party, the state hasn't gone for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only one Democrat now holds statewide office.
But the party is changing, and new Republicans aren't restricted to Hilton Head and other gated coastal enclaves.
Bruce Miller started Sun City's Republican club and last fall hosted a forum for Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He has little in common with his party's social conservatives, the so-called values voters.
"South Carolina cannot continue its closed mentality on social issues," Miller said. "Even though I'm a Republican, I'm not what I call an ignorant Republican."
The economic transition that's brought prosperity to some South Carolinians has displaced others and led to worries about matters such as job security and health care.
Last November, Charles Harris joined a dozen displaced workers in the kitchen of a mobile home in Lancaster County, across a table from Democratic candidate and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the son of a South Carolina mill worker.
Weeks later, Harris was still looking for work.
"I have kids in college," he said, "and they don't stop charging me tuition just because I lost my job."
The newly jobless have swelled the numbers of bankruptcies, said Lancaster attorney Mandy Powers-Norrell. "It's hard to switch gears when you've been running a loom for 40 years," she said.
Some analysts wonder whether South Carolina's economic changes, dramatized in some areas by a steady influx of Hispanics, will cause its socially conservative working-class voters to migrate back to the Democrats.
"There's just this great sense of insecurity about what's going to happen in the future," said former University of South Carolina historian Dan Carter. "It's like everything: It changes and stays the same."
(Morrill reports for The Charlotte Observer.)