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Bernie Sanders Holds Four Rallies In Texas This Weekend As Early Voting Continues For March Primary

By Marisa Charpentier, KUT

With Super Tuesday approaching, Bernie Sanders made the rounds in Texas this weekend, traveling to El Paso, San Antonio, Houston and Austin to rally support for his campaign to win the Democratic nomination for president. 

His four stops came as Texans are in the middle of early voting, which started Tuesday and continues through Feb. 28. Election Day in Texas is March 3, “Super Tuesday.” Thirteen other states and American Samoa hold elections that day, awarding a total of 1,357 Democratic delegates.

Sanders' campaign estimates more than 12,700 people crowded along Lady Bird Lake on Sunday to hear the candidate tout his plans for health care, climate change and infrastructure. 

The Vermont senator said that plan extends to affordable housing, an issue that has special resonance in Austin, as housing prices continue to soar. 

“Not only is it a disgrace that half a million people tonight will be living out on the streets, it is a disgrace that 18 million families are spending half of their income to put a roof over their heads,” he said. “We’re going to put people to work building 10 million units of affordable and low-income housing.”

Marianne Williamson made a surprise appearance at the rally to endorse her former rival for the Democratic nomination. 

“Bernie Sanders has been taking a stand for a very long time,” Williamson, who was born and raised in Houston, said. “He has been consistent. He has been convicted, he has been committed. And now it’s time. I’m here and you’re here, because it’s time for us to take a stand with Bernie.”

People lined up hours ahead of Sanders’ arrival at the event. Many in the crowd said they support Sanders not just because of his stances on the issues, but also because of what they see as his authenticity. 

“It’s something real,” Alex Lowrey, who attended the rally, said. “You can just see it, you can feel it, to know that he’s talking to you, and all the things that you’ve gone through as someone that lives in the United States that’s not rich or wealthy.” 

Sunday's rally came a day after a win in the Nevada caucuses, landing him victories in two of the first three states to weigh in on the Democratic presidential nomination this year. He won in New Hampshire and almost tied for first in the too-close-to-call Iowa caucuses.

Sanders is also leading polls in Texas. According to the most recent  University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, he leads former Vice President Joe Biden by 2 percentage points here.

Sanders spent his Nevada victory night in San Antonio as part of his four-city Texas tour. 

More than 5,700 people attended a rally at San Antonio’s Cowboys Dancehall. When Sanders took the stage, results were still coming in, but showed him as the leader.

“We are going to win here in Texas,” Sanders said. “We are going to win across the country because the American people are sick and tired of a president who lies all of the time.”

Sanders had strong support among Latinos in Nevada. He told the San Antonio crowd that immigration would be one of his day-one priorities if elected president.

“On the first day in office, through executive order, we rescind all of Trump's racist immigration executive orders,” he said.

He also promised to provide legal status to undocumented immigrants eligible for DACA, end border separation policies and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Vanessa York-Waid said she considered herself a Republican, but that’s changed because of what she described as racist attitudes. 

“I don’t like what’s going on with our country,” the San Antonio resident said. 

Policy proposals and plans are not York-Waid’s top issue in this election.

“No,” she said. “It’s ‘beat Trump.’”

But she isn’t sure Sanders is the best candidate for the task. 

“I think it’s basically kind of looking at what each of the candidates are offering, and then just deciding what mainstream America is going to accept, and then going that direction,” she said. 

Earlier on Saturday, Sanders filled the Abraham Chavez Theatre in downtown El Paso. Supporters lined up early to see the presidential hopeful. A couple wore T-shirts they designed themselves, depicting Sanders as a lucha libre wrestler named “El Bernie.”

Many used the word “consistency” when explaining why they’re backing Sanders.

“He’s been not only talking the talk but walking to walk for a long time,” said Ruby Montana, a lecturer at the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College. “This is a man who has demonstrated his integrity.”

Alberto Mena, who attended the El Paso rally, said he turned to Sanders after his preferred candidate, Julián Castro, dropped out of the race. Mena said his number-one concern is “combating the rise of hatred and extremism in the United States, which we here in El Paso had a personal experience with,” referring to the Aug. 3 mass shooting at a local Walmart.

“First and foremost, I think we need to address this existential threat to the Mexican-American community,” Mena said.

He said he believes Sanders is the best candidate for the job, partly because he doesn’t shy away from terms like “white nationalism.” 

“I appreciate him being able to just call it what it is,” Mena said. 

Shortly after arriving in the West Texas city, Sanders visited a memorial to the 22 victims of the Walmart attack. He linked that attack to mass shootings at a black church in Charleston, S.C., and a synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

“What we have got to do as a country is do everything possible to end the hatred,” he said.

He then turned to gun control. Sanders has come under some criticism for his record on the issue, but laid out specifics at the El Paso rally, calling for universal background checks, an end to the “gun show loophole,” and a ban on the sale and distribution of assault weapons.

“Our gun policy will be written by the American people, not the NRA,” he said to a cheering crowd.

KUT's Samuel King, KERA's Mallory Falk, and Texas Public Radio's Joey Palacios and Dominic Anthony contributed to this report.