(CNN)Initial results in Nevada show Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has taken the early lead among Democrats in the Silver State caucuses, demonstrating how he has successfully harnessed the youth vote and now a sizable portion of the Latino vote to power his candidacy.
While polling is notoriously difficult in Nevada, Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden have jockeyed for the lead, with Sanders rising after his team built deep organizing roots in the state — particularly within the Latino community — some eight months ago.
Sanders projected the confidence of a frontrunner Friday by steering his campaign toward the upcoming Super Tuesday contests of California and Texas, holding a midday rally in Santa Ana, California, Friday — with a last stop in Las Vegas Friday night — before moving on to events in Texas Saturday.
In his final rally Friday night, Sanders said he was hoping for “the largest voter turnout in the history of the Nevada caucus,” keying off the large turnout in the four-day early voting period in Nevada where some 75,000 voters turned out to cast a ballot showing their preferences in the caucuses.
During a rally in Texas on Saturday, Sanders said that if his campaign does well in the state, “Trump is finished.” He highlighted the growing diversity of his supporters as he greeted the crowd in El Paso Saturday.
“When I look out at an audience like this and I see the diversity and the beauty in this audience. And let me tell you, you do look beautiful from here,” Sanders said. “When I look out at this audience, I have absolute confidence that we can create a government that is based on compassion, is based on love, is based on truth. Not what we have now — of greed, corruption.”
Early entrance polls in Nevada showed Sanders winning Latino voters by 54%, some 40 percentage points ahead of the next candidate, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders also won among white voters in the polls; Biden led among black voters in those early snapshots of the electorate.
Some wondered whether Sanders would face headwinds among the considerable number of union members in Nevada after tensions flared between the powerful Culinary Union — which represents 66,000 hotel and casino workers — and Sanders supporters, because of the Culinary Union’s opposition to Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan. The union decided not to endorse a candidate.
The Culinary Union posted flyers throughout Las Vegas underscoring that Sanders’ plan would force them to give up the excellent health care benefits they fought for. That led to a backlash among some Sanders supporters online, who criticized leaders of the Culinary Union. But thus far that disagreement over Medicare for All does not seem to be hurting Sanders.
Among Nevada voters, the overriding concern was supporting a candidate who could beat President Donald Trump. But on the issues, health care was the top concern and 63% of voters said they supported a government-run plan like the one Sanders has proposed.
Of the 43% of voters who said health care was their top issue, early entrance polls showed that 39% of those voters favored Sanders.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigned hard this week in Nevada, seeking a last-minute surge after she led the charge against former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Wednesday night’s Las Vegas debate. (Bloomberg is not competing in the state).
She touted her debate performance at her Friday night rally as a final pitch to voters that she would be the toughest candidate against Trump.
“If anyone doubts whether or not I can fight (Trump) on a debate stage I think we have the video from Wednesday, I’m ready for th