In a mathematical squeeze to make up ground in the Democratic presidential race, Bernie Sanders is preparing to ratchet up his attacks on Hillary Clinton ahead of a New York showdown.
The Empire State's April 19 primary looms as potentially determinative. A win by Clinton, who is favoured, would further narrow Sanders's path, while a loss in the state she represented as a senator would embarrass her and hand Sanders a rationale to continue campaigning until the final votes are cast in June.
Clinton had enjoyed a lead of roughly 300 in pledged delegates, but Sanders was poised to sweep a trio of Western caucuses that should help him shrink that gap.
In one of the most successful days of his campaign, the senator from Vermont easily won in Alaska and Washington state and was well positioned to carry Hawaii as well.
To capitalise on his fresh momentum, Sanders plans an aggressive push in New York, modelled after his come-from-behind victory a few weeks ago in Michigan.
He intends to barnstorm the state as if he were running for governor. His advisers, spoiling for a brawl, have commissioned polls to show which contrasts with Clinton - from Wall St to fracking - could do the most damage to her at home.
"We'll be the underdog, but being the underdog in New York is not the worst situation in politics," said Tad Devine, the chief strategist for Sanders.
"We're going to make a real run for it."
The intensified and scrappy approach by Sanders comes as Clinton is eager to pivot to the general election. Clinton keenly understands the imperative to unite Democrats for the November campaign and, believing that the nomination is nearly locked up, wants to spend spring building bridges to the Sanders wing.
A potentially ugly primary in New York threatens to derail those efforts.
Clinton's advisers are all but urging Sanders to lay off his attacks.
"We're going to run to win delegates and run to win the primary," Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said. "We intend to win this thing with a majority of pledged delegates.
Senator Sanders is going to have to make up his mind about what he wants to do and what kind of campaign he wants to run."
Podesta noted that Sanders took a more negative turn in the Midwestern states that voted on March 16 - Illinois, Ohio and Missouri - and lost all three. "It didn't work," he said.
Clinton, her aides and her allies in recent weeks have avoided sharply attacking Sanders, wary of saying or doing anything that would make it more difficult to engineer an eventual coming together.
In particular, the Clinton forces have been careful not to be seen as pushing Sanders to quit the race.
A group of pro-Clinton senators recently considered writing an open letter to Sanders saying the time had come for him to end his campaign. But Clinton allies Charles Schumer and Barbara Mikulskiapparently persuaded colleagues to nix it.
Clinton's team sees wooing the Sanders coalition as a pressing mission.
Key would be whether and how soon Clinton wins Sanders's endorsement - and how enthusiastic he is in giving it. Clinton's vocal support for then-Senator Barack Obama following their divisive 2008 primary helped unite Democrats.
Scrapping it out
• Bernie Sanders: 80.7%, 13 delegates
• Hillary Clinton: 19.3%, 4 delegates
• Sanders: 72.6%, 23 delegates
• Clinton: 27.2%, 18 delegates
• 70 delegates to be allocated, the exact tally may not be known for several weeks.
• Clinton has at least 1223, Sanders has at least 929. Including superdelegates, Clinton has at least 1692 to Sanders' 958. It takes 2383 to win. Democrat contests are proportional which makes it hard for Sanders to overtake Clinton.
- Washington Post- Bloomberg