Hillary Clinton has emerged strongest Democrat candidate for White House
Democrat Bernie Sanders is laying off hundreds of campaign workers after a string of losses to frontrunner Hillary Clinton, focusing his forces on the last big presidential primary in California -- and on the battle for the party's platform.
"We do not need workers now in states around the country" that have already held primaries, Sanders, a US senator from Vermont, told The New York Times in an interview.
He said his campaign would "allocate our resources to the 14 contests that remain, and that means that we are going to be cutting back on staff."
Sanders's nationwide paid staff amounted to more than 1,000 people in late January, shortly before the first presidential nominations contest in Iowa, campaign spokesman Michael Briggs told The Washington Post.
Citing the campaign, CNN reported that the number recently shrank to about 550.
In a statement, Briggs said the campaign would likely drop further, to a bit more than 300 people.
"That's unheard of" for a campaign still in the thick of a primary battle, Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told AFP.
"They can explain it in any which way they want, but obviously the top brass and probably Sanders himself has accepted reality; he's not going to be the Democratic nominee."
In public, the 74-year-old Sanders continues to assure his supporters that he still has a shot at the nomination, even though the path is a narrow one. And he still could win upcoming primaries. Indiana votes on Tuesday.
But his delegate shortfall is so immense that he not only would have to take the remaining primaries by large margins, including California on June 7, but also win over the hundreds of super-delegates already in Clinton's camp.
The roughly 700 super-delegates are members of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic members of Congress and state governors. Of those, 500 have already declared their support for Clinton.
The former secretary of state is only about 215 delegates short of the 2,383 delegate majority need to win the nomination. And more than 1,000 delegates are up for grabs in the state nominating contests between now and mid-June.
Clinton is already working to reunite the Democrats after months of increasingly acrimonious political warfare with Sanders, a self-styled democratic socialist whose call for a "political revolution" has energized young, independent and white blue-collar voters.
Apart from their policy differences, Sanders has suggested that Clinton has been corrupted by donations from lobbyists and executives for banking and financial interests, who have contributed heavily to her campaign.
Former president Bill Clinton in particular was so irritated by what he considered the young black senator's hypocrisy that he was unable to control himself, and his attacks escalated at rally after rally.
On the evening of the last primary, despite having been defeated, Hillary Clinton stunned observers by refusing to concede. It wasn't until several days later that she formally threw in the towel.
"In 2008, there was quite a serious concern as to whether disgruntled Clinton supporters actually would get on board with Barack Obama," said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University.
"She made a very impassioned case that they should once she was out of the race, and they did. Which is part of the reason why I feel like, given the intensity of that race compared to this one, there's no question that the Sanders people will ultimately support Clinton."
Defeated candidates often lose clout. But some, like Pat Buchanan for the Republicans in 1992 and 1996, or Howard Dean on the Democratic side in 2004, manage to retain their influence after their defeats.
Sanders, who spent his political career as an independent and not a Democrat, appears determined to anchor the Democratic Party on the left.
He has said repeatedly that he will go to the convention in Philadelphia in July, where the party's platform will be hammered out.
He intends to fight for adoption of a $15 an hour minimum wage (Clinton prefers $12), a ban on hydraulic fracking, and the creation of a carbon tax.
Clinton, for her part, desperately needs the support of young Democrats.
About 80 percent of those aged 18 to 29 have voted for Sanders.
"Clinton clearly needs the Sanders votes, and she needs the Sanders enthusiasm," said Sabato. But he added: "November is a long time away. And conventions often act as a reunifying factor."
Another reason why Sanders will be a player: his war chest.
"At this point, the big question with the Sanders campaign is that he still has a lot of money, he has the ability to raise a substantial amount of money. So what he does with his money is a bigger question," said Robert Boatright, a political science professor at Clark University.