Jane Sanders, wife of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, discusses her husband’s presidential campaign, the septuagenarian’s draw for voters, and challenges the campaign faces heading into Saturday’s first-in-the-South Democratic presidential primary, where her husband trails frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the polls. Answers have been edited for brevity.
The Buzz: Clinton has a strong lead here in the polls, especially among African-American voters. How difficult has it been trying to overcome her ties here?
Jane Sanders: We started out (low) in the first poll here in South Carolina, so we've come a long way. The biggest concern is time. We are working every waking moment trying to get out and talk to people, meet with people and have them know where he stands on the issues.
We went today to Brookland Baptist Church (in West Columbia) and we met a lot of people there. We’re having a large event in Greenville this evening. We're doing radio and television interviews and we're trying to get him known.
It's an enviable place for a candidate to be, that the more you know somebody the more you trust them. I wish we had more time throughout this whole campaign.
The State: What is your response to people in South Carolina who say that Sen. Sanders won't be able to win in November because the country isn't going to elect a democratic socialist?
Jane Sanders: That's completely inaccurate. People don't identify themselves as capitalists. He's a Democrat now. He has a philosophy that says, ‘OK, we want to ensure that Social Security is not privatized and not cut (but) expanded.’ He supports the public parks. He passed the most significant piece of legislation to improve the Veterans Administration.
He supports the public libraries and our infrastructure, our dams and our levees and our water systems. They're all democratic socialist programs, if you look at it that way.
What he means by democratic socialism is: people above profit. There's nothing wrong – and certainly we support private enterprise and entrepreneurship – but the focus of government should be ensuring a good quality of life for the vast majority of people and not focused, as it has been lately, on ensuring the largest profit for the pharmaceutical industry, for the insurance companies, for the multi-national corporations as they move jobs overseas with impunity.
That's why I say, if he gets in front of people and he talks to them, it makes a lot of sense. We tend to not use labels for anything, not for people, not for problems, because they can always be misinterpreted.
The Buzz: Are you surprised by the success the campaign has had? When you started the campaign, did you ever think a Vermont Independent running for the Democratic nomination would have the success he’s had?
Jane Sanders: He has caucused with the Democrats since he's been in Congress, so it seems very important to work with people and to run as a Democrat and to hopefully transform the Democratic Party as much as this nation.
I've been surprised at how quickly his message has resonated. We knew it would because there are the issues that are of concern to the American people. Campaign finance reform, income inequality, criminal justice, jobs and the economy, universal healthcare, higher wages. Those are the things people are very, very concerned about.
We knew the ideas would resonate, but they resonated more quickly than we expected and more fervently. The support is extremely strong once they get to know Bernie. That's the hurdle that we're facing. The difficulty is getting known, and we're addressing that.
The Buzz: The senator is in his 70s, Clinton is in her 60s, and the youngest candidate in the race (former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley) dropped out because he gained no traction. Is this an ill omen for progressives, an indication that the Democratic bench is pretty thin?
Jane Sanders: No. We have two good candidates for the Democratic process right now, and it's interesting and a little ironic, that the person who's the oldest in the race is bringing in a lot of young people into the process.
What would be very interesting, if Bernie wins the nomination, you'll see a cabinet that is very diverse in age. You will see people who were outside the system being brought it, so he will actually be ushering in another generation into the White House.
You would think that wouldn't be the case, but anybody who's seen Bernie, knows that youth is just a state of mind. He is unbelievable. No one can keep up with him.