Supporters lined up early Saturday outside a Northeast San Antonio dance hall as the campaign trail brought leading Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to the city.

Against the backdrop of a giant Texas flag and under a still disco ball at Cowboys Dancehall, the Vermont senator appeared on stage before thousands of people who braved several hours of standing in line to get a glimpse of the Democratic candidate. Sanders has surged in recent weeks to a clear lead in the Texas polls.

Even before his arrival, an energized crowd began chanting “Bernie Now!” as the Nevada caucus results, showing Sanders far ahead of his rivals, were broadcast on the dance hall’s giant screens.

San Antonio Tex-Mex punk band Piñata Protest then kicked off the rally shouting, “¡Para Tío Bernie!” – for Uncle Bernie.

Sanders took the stage shortly after 7 p.m. accompanied by his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, and told the crowd he was going to win in Texas and across the country because “the American people are sick and tired of a president who is undermining democracy.”

“The American people are sick and tired of a government which is based on greed, corruption, and lies, and want an administration which is based on the principles of justice – economic justice, social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice,” Sanders said.

The Sanders campaign held a rally in El Paso earlier in the day and had another planned for Austin on Sunday.

Thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters line up at Cowboys Dancehall to see the Democratic candidate as he arrives in San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Sanders, who has campaigned on a public-health-care-for-all platform, outlined an agenda that he said would bring people together and support the working class. He intends to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide universal child care, build more affordable housing, expand funding for Planned Parenthood, and make higher education tuition-free.

Sanders said he also plans to transition the country away from its reliance on fossil fuels, create 28 million new jobs, implement principles of the Green New Deal, and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The campaign rally was John and Linda Swenson’s first visit to the dance hall even though they live only a mile away. “Too rowdy,” they said of the usual late-night dance venue. Not able to stand for long periods of time, the 70-year-old couple happily found seats together on a wooden boot-shine bench near the back of the room.

The Swensons had already voted, he for Sanders, she for Pete Buttigieg, but they wanted to come out to see the man they believe will be the next president of the United States. But Sanders wasn’t John’s first choice among the Democratic candidates.

“I really thought that I was going to vote for [Andrew] Yang, and I really wanted to,” John said. “The only time in my life I’ve ever voted for anybody that I thought, ‘Wow, this is great,’ is Jimmy Carter – twice.”

Karina Gill, 36, attended the rally and plans to vote for Sanders, she said, but she’s waiting until election day.

An American citizen originally from Mexico who now works as a chemist in San Antonio, Gill said the economy is her biggest concern, especially when it comes to benefits for the working class. She voted for Donald Trump in the last presidential election but has been disappointed that he didn’t fulfill a campaign promise on congressional term limits.

Wearing a black felt hat and blue jeans befitting the venue, Ben Urbanczyk, 40, had already cast his vote for Sanders because, he said, “he’s always been for the working class and the majority of America is working-class or below.” Urbanczyk wanted the opportunity to hear Sanders in person.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses San Antonio supporters and a national television audience during a campaign rally at Cowboys Dancehall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

But Nancy Evans, 50, said she hadn’t made up her mind yet and attended the rally for that reason. She said she likes Sanders’ stand on resolving wealth inequality and his “Medicare for All” plan, and attended the rally to hear what he had to say about those issues.

Partway through Sanders’ speech at the rally, the final numbers in Nevada showed Sanders had won that state’s caucuses claiming more than 45 percent of the delegates.

Sanders closed the San Antonio rally by reminding the crowd of the grassroots tradition of his campaign.

“If we stand together, we will not only defeat Trump, we will transform this country and create a government and an economy that works for all of us, not wealthy campaign contributors,” he said.

Sanders has doubled his support among Democratic voters in Texas, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, and now leads the race for the party’s presidential nomination in Texas.

Early voting in the Texas primaries started on Tuesday. Election day — Super Tuesday — is March 3.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.