You might call them a political power couple. Don Fowler is a former Democratic National Committee chair; his wife, Carol Khare Fowler, is chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. They are both superdelegates. And both sit on the DNC's now famous Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will meet this Saturday in Washington to decide the fate of the delegates from the punished line-cutting primary states, Florida and Michigan.
While they and the 28 other members of the committee try to figure how many delegates get seated from these two states, and also how to divide those delegates between Hillary Clinton, whose name was on both ballots, and Barack Obama, who removed his name from the Michigan ballot, there might be slight rift between the couple who have worked in politics together for more than 30 years and been married for 2½. Carol has endorsed Obama; Don supports Clinton. U.S. News discussed the state of the race and the meaning of this meeting with the couple.
There have been rumors of planned protests at the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting this weekend in Washington. What kind of circus are you expecting in D.C.?
Carol Khare Fowler: I hope that inside that meeting there won't be any circus at all. We usually don't have a circus.
Don Fowler: Rules committee meetings are not things that fascinate people.
Carol: People might die of boredom...about the most exciting thing that ever happens is some reporter goes to sleep.
DNC lawyers recently assessed the situation and found that only either half of Florida and Michigan's delegation can be seated, or the whole delegation can be seated but then every delegate can only get half a vote. Is the Rules and Bylaws Committee bound to this judgment?
Carol: I think we are going to debate that. I agree with the DNC lawyers, and Don does not.
Don: I clearly do not. I mean, it's a hell of a thing that the DNC lawyers will come up six or eight months after the rules committee has imposed these sanctions and say, 'Oh, y'all made a mistake,' right in the middle of all this controversy.
Carol: That's not what they are saying. They are saying we can keep it at 100 percent [of delegates taken away from Michigan and Florida] if we want to, we can't go below 50 percent.
Don: That's ridiculous.
The original decision to punish Michigan and Florida for having early primaries came from the Rules and Bylaws Committee. What were your assessments then, and, looking at the situation presently, did you ever expect this to happen?
Carol: I knew this would happen. I think everybody knew that this would happen, that they would come back and ask for their delegates. I think that the rules say we had to absolutely reduce them by 50 percent—[the Rules and Bylaw Committee] didn't do that, it happened automatically. We added on to that and made it 100 percent, but I think everybody knew at the time that as we got closer, as those delegates were pledged to candidates, that people would be back wanting their votes back.
Do either of you have an idea of how they can split these delegates between Clinton and Obama?
Carol: In Florida they would be pledged to the candidate in the proportion of the election results. In Michigan, I don't how you'd do it.
Don: Here's another problem: In Michigan, the general political impulse is to give Obama the uncommitted votes, and that's contrary to the charter of the Democratic Party. Because the people of Michigan voted for an uncommitted slate, to arbitrarily take them from uncommitted and give them to a candidate is totally contrary. We don't have the prerogative to say, 'OK, you folks in Michigan, 33 percent of you voted for uncommitted but that doesn't count, we're going to give your votes to Obama.' You can't do that. But we might anyway, despite of the fact that you can't or may not. These rules are selectively enforced.
So then how do you think the Rules and Bylaws Committee will end up splitting the delegates between the two candidates? Do you have any predictions on how it will actually be done?
Don: You go first.
Carol: I think we are going to grant some delegates to Michigan and Florida, I don't know the number. Fifty percent seems to be the number that everybody uses—whether it's 50 percent of the vote or 50 percent of the delegates, that seems to be the number everybody uses. But I think we're going to do something. I just don't know quite what that is. And I think that the people of Michigan and Florida are not going to be particularly happy with what we do.
Don: One of the real difficulties is even when you say 50 percent cut and we divide that 50 percent according to the results of the primary, there are two or three different ways of how to apply that 50 percent cut. And this is important. You can do it one way and Senator Clinton has a 19 [delegate] lead [from those two primaries], I believe, and you do it another way and she only has a six [delegate] lead.
And while I clearly favor one way of doing it, I would grant that the other way is arguable. It's very tricky. And then you have the question of the so-called superdelegates. Do you bar them entirely or give them full votes? There are 26 from Florida and 29 from Michigan. Michigan has more because it has more Democratic members of the United States Congress.
But even if Clinton gets the better amount of delegates, can she overtake Obama?
Carol: Certainly not based on anything we do on Saturday.
Don: It's possible, but Carol is absolutely right, not with what we do on Saturday. I don't buy this 50 percent rule that Carol supports. The Clinton people want 100 percent restoration, and I think that has great validity. If Clinton got 100 percent restoration, Clinton would have a net of 38 votes, she would pick up 38 as opposed to 19 votes or 6 votes. You've got a lot of things to discuss there.
Is there a shot that Clinton could still get the nomination?
Don: I don't think it's impossible. The probability has diminished over the last several weeks. You can paint a pattern that could happen that she could get the nomination, but it's pretty slim.
Carol: I think it's pretty far-fetched. The things that would have to happen for it to happen, I just don't think it's likely at all.
Don, you would like to see Clinton at least get a chunk of these delegates from Michigan and Florida. Do you think that is better for the party?
Don: I think a peaceful settlement is the best solution for the party. I have my own notion of what the best solution would be, but I'm not sure anybody agrees with me. You would split it 50-50. You would restore the full delegation in both states and just give each delegate a half vote. And you would give the uncommitted to Obama in Michigan, and I think politically that's very viable. You'd have to skirt some rules there, but if you have the political will you can do that. I think that solution would please more people than any other one.
Carol: That's probably right, except I think my solution for Michigan—which probably wouldn't fly—I still think it would be the fairest way because their election was patently unfair for not just the candidates but for the voters. They didn't have a full slate. I think I would make Michigan go back and re-elect all their delegates—all uncommitted.
Because there are only 30 members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, how many letters and calls have you gotten from people on the issue of seating Michigan and Florida?
Carol: Hundreds and thousands of them. Some want us to vote one way, and some want us to vote the other. I wish I had time, I don't read them all, I hardly read any of them, I don't have time to read them, but I wish I had time to answer every one of them and remind them that the Rules and Bylaws Committee did not do this, their own political leadership did.
Don: I have received well over 1,000. Some of them are telephone calls, some of them are handwritten letters, and most of them are E-mails, but it is well over 1,000. About the first 50 I responded to every one, and I had a standard reply. I sent them to people who were urging me to do something I didn't want as well as urging me to do something I did want. But after 50, maybe 100, it became impossible.
What are your opinions on a "dream" Obama-Clinton ticket? Is this a politically viable idea that could help heal the so-called rift in the Democratic Party?
Carol: I think it's entirely up to Senator Obama who he picks as his vice presidential nominee. Very smart people are trying to figure that out and certainly trying to figure out if it should be Senator Clinton or anybody else. I'm not sure if that's even the strongest ticket you could create.
Don: I agree with Carol, I just don't want to make a speculation about her. It's curious, and people are interested in talking about it. But to talk about it in a way that is substantive...it's purely speculation.
How often do the two of you disagree on politics?
Carol: We are always together in November, and we frequently are together in the primaries. We frequently vote for the same candidate, but not always, but in general elections we always vote the same way. We argue much more about rules.
Don: I think we disagree about some things other than nitty-gritty details, but we are both Democrats and we don't have disputes about that and we are always together November and we both believe in Santa Claus.
So will U.S. News be able to talk to you again after this hullabaloo in Washington is over?
Don: We're happy to talk to you after this weekend.
Carol: If we're still married.
Don: If you know any divorce lawyers in Washington, tell them to be on alert Saturday.