Bernie Sanders' top staffer in California, Michael Ceraso, has left the senator's campaign less than a month out from the state's high-stakes primary, where the most delegates of any state this election are up for grabs.
The Sanders campaign has long used the California contest as an example that the nomination contest is far from over, hopeful that he will capture a large portion of the 475 pledged delegates available on June 7. News of state director Ceraso's split with the campaign, first reported by Politico, comes at an inopportune time, as Sanders struggles to catch up to rival Hillary Clinton's lead of 276 pledged delegates.
The circumstances surrounding Ceraso's departure were not immediately clear. Ceraso, who previously helped the campaign earn a key victory in New Hampshire, where he was the campaign's deputy state director, reportedly had pushed the campaign to focus more on its digital strategy in California, rather than television advertising, according to Politico.
On Monday, Sanders suggested he may not air television advertisements in California at all, telling the the Sacramento Bee that the campaign was in "reasonably good financial shape, but TV is so expensive here in California, you could just spend millions of dollars in a few days."
The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request from VICE News for comment on Wednesday. But they wasted no time in announcing a replacement for Ceraso. Robert Becker, who was Sanders' state director in Iowa and worked on the campaigns efforts in numerous other states, including New York, will take the reins in California, a spokesman told Politico.
Sanders, faced with repeated calls to drop out of the race, has continued to score wins, including in West Virginia on Tuesday by more than 15 percentage points. Despite the ongoing momentum, he has failed to significantly cut into Clinton's delegate advantage in the last month.
While he has drawn large crowds to his rallies in California, Sanders remains between 2 and 19 points behind in recent polling in the state. The Vermont senator has pledged to see the nomination race right through to the Democratic National Convention in July, and a significant win in California is crucial to the campaign's strategy to tip the scales in his favor.
Although it is now impossible for Sanders to clinch the nomination through the remaining pledged delegates alone, the campaign has revealed plans to try and convince as many superdelegates as possible to switch their support from Clinton to Sanders. But that is not typically a realistic proposition for a candidate who fails to win either pledged delegates or the popular vote.
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