Bernie Sanders weakened heading into California

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One-on-one with Bernie Sanders

Throughout his campaign, California has been Bernie Sanders' promised land — a progressive state rich in delegates and a reliable source of hope, just over the horizon.

"We think we have a path toward victory, and that path absolutely must go through California," Sanders told the Los Angeles Times in March.

But now, with California's June 7 primary finally coming into view, Sanders may be heading into the Golden State hobbled.

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Bernie Sanders weakened heading into California
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 15: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center during a campaign rally on March 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary elections in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, while Missouri and Illinois remain tight races. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, pumps his fist as he arrives for at a rally at the Macomb Community College, Saturday, March 5, 2016, in Warren, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks at the FOX News town hall at the Gem Theatre, Monday, March 7, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves as he leaves a news conference after voting in the Vermont primary at the Robert Miller Community and Recreation Center in Burlington, Vermont, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, on Super Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)???
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, and his wife, Jane arrive for a rally in Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. smiles while speaking at the Kansas City Convention Center during a campaign event in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, meets 3-month-old Oliver Lomas, of Venice, Calif., who was dressed as Sanders during a rally at Bonanza High School, on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a canvass kick-off event at the Reno Sparks Convention Center, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to a crowd outside of a rally at Bonanza High School, on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., boards his plane for a campaign rally in Las Vegas, on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The Rev. Al Sharpton talks with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. as they sit down for a breakfast meeting at Sylvia's Restaurant, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. Sanders defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., reacts to the cheering crowd at his primary night rally Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., poses for a selfie during a campaign rally on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Waterloo, Iowa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 26: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to the media after holding a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L, on January 26, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Sanders continues his quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee.. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - US Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 24, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a CNN town hall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. jokes with members of the media and pretends to slip as he steps off his bus before speaking at a town hall, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, at Santa Maria Winery in Carroll, Iowa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leaves after speaking to a crowded room during a campaign stop Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, is joined by his wife Jane, right, and grandchildren, Dylan, 4, and Ella, 7, on stage after speaking at a town hall at the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, participates in the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Hours before Sunday's Democratic debate, the two top Democratic contenders held a warm-up bout of sorts in multiple separate appearances on political talk shows, at a time when the polling gap between the pair has narrowed in early-voting states. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shakes hands with supporters after outlining his plan to reform the U.S. financial sector on January 5, 2016 in New York City. Sanders is demanding greater financial oversight and greater government action for banks and individuals that break financial laws. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, to discuss gun control and related amendments to the reconciliation bill. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders at the NHDP annual Jefferson Jackson dinner in Manchester, N.H., Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., steps onstage to speak at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. left, sits with rapper Killer Mike at The Busy Bee Cafe Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. Killer Mike is scheduled to introduce Sanders at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre later in the evening. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The crowd cheers as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign event at the Fox Theatre Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., cheer at the Jenkins Orphanage in North Charleston, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, during the Blue Jamboree event. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, about the meaning of "democratic socialism" and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pauses to wipe his brow as he speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, about the meaning of "democratic socialism" and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
LEBANON, NH - NOVEMBER 11: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) marches in the Veterans Day Parade November 11, 2015 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Sanders goes into the Democrats second debate this weekend still running strong in the polls.(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. While next Tuesday's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks about the Workplace Democracy Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks during a campaign rally in Springfield, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2105. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the Des Moines Youth Summit, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, at Creative Visions in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Senator Bernie Sanders at Late Show with Stephen Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City on September 18, 2015. Credit: RW/MediaPunch/IPX
US Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses striking low-wage contract workers from the US Capitol and religious leaders at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC, on September 22, 2015 for an interfaith service ahead of the arrival of Pope Francis for a six-day visit to the US. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - SEPTEMBER 19: Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks on stage during the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention on September 19, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Five Democratic presidential candidates are all expected to address the crowd inside the Verizon Wireless Arena. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves as he marches with supporters in the Labor Day parade Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Milford, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a television interview before a town hall meeting, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Grinnell, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I -Vt., reacts during a fundraiser reception Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., greets supporters during the opening of his Cedar Rapids field headquarters, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015, in Marion, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Iowa at the Iowa State Fair Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at the Surf Ballroom Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Clear Lake, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally, Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., lifts his arms in celebration as he speaks at a rally, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Troy Wayrynen)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during a visit to the National Nurses United office Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A supporter takes a photo with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, at a rally, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Troy Wayrynen)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., smiles before a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The afternoon rally was the first of several weekend appearances by Sanders in Seattle and Portland. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Nurses take "selfies" with Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., after her spoke at a rally with registered nurses and other community leaders on the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, Thursday, July 30, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the 2015 International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART) Conference, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joined by federal contract workers, speaks during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 22, 2015, to push for a raise to the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gives an opening statement at a Netroots Nation town hall meeting, Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waits to speak at the Alliance for Retired Americans 2015 National Legislative Conference in Washington, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to the media about his agenda in running for president, Thursday, April 30, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., poses for a portrait before an interview, Wednesday May 20, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Despite notching two wins this month, with more likely to come, Sanders is running lower on cash than expected and replaced his top official in California Wednesday. Meanwhile, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has moved to solidify her support in the state, which she won comfortably over Barack Obama in 2008.

Related: Trump Supporters Boost Sanders in West Virginia

The state has a history of progressive insurgents upsetting expectations, such as when Gary Hart beat then-presumptive nominee Walter Mondale in 1984, and Sanders could still be latest. With less than a month to go, though, it's an uphill climb.

The campaign parted ways with its former California State director, Michael Ceraso, this week. No reason was given for the departure, but a spokesperson said the campaign feels "great" with their new director, Robert Becker, who has run several states for Sanders.

Meanwhile, Sanders officials say they "probably" won't spend more on television advertising in the notoriously expensive state, which some California political experts say is virtually a declaration of surrender.

In another sign of trouble, a senior aide says the campaign is likely to stop producing new TV spots all together. That, after the campaign has cut more than 264 different TV ads.

In Kentucky, which votes Tuesday, Sanders' campaign is reusing two old ads and letting himself be outspent by Clinton's campaign $178,000 to $93,000, according to ad tracking data from NBC News partner SMG Delta.

Sanders' online fundraising machine has in the past allowed him to outspend Clinton in almost every contest he wanted to. But there are increasingly signs that that once seemingly bottomless well of donations is drying up.

Sanders: This campaign is not over

Sanders raised only $26 million in April, way down from the $46 million he brought in in March and the $42 million he collected in February.

Meanwhile, Sanders was spending an average of about $40 million per month during the first quarter of the year (April data is not yet available), forcing a downsize to meet lower revenue. Last month, the campaign laid off hundreds of staffers and overall headcount has been dramatically reduced from its peak.

The cash crunch comes at a bad time. With some of the nation's largest media markets and its biggest population, California is the most expensive state in the country in which to buy TV advertising - but it's also perhaps the most important.

Related: Sanders' Solo Victories Alter Perception of Dem Race

"If you're behind in the polls and you're not advertising on TV, it's tough to win no matter what you're running for," said Doug Herman, a Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist.

But Sanders and his aides say major broadcast spending is unlikely, though they have already dropped $555,000 on cable in the California and Oregon.

"We'll see," said Tad Devine, Sanders' top strategist and ad-maker. "For many weeks we have talked about barnstorming California as our communications strategy, and I think that's probably what we're going to do. But we will always reserve the option to do other things as well."

Sanders told the Sacramento Bee Monday that he wasn't sure TV would be worth it, adding the campaign was "in reasonably good financial shape."

Even a conservative statewide advertising campaign would cost more than $5 million, operatives say.

In 2008, Obama spent $6.2 million in California, while Clinton dropped $5.6 million, according to the data compiled by the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. And that year, the state voted on Super Tuesday, meaning it had to compete for resources with 21 other states, including the second most expensive one, New York.

Still, Sanders may be able to skirt by on free media attention from a hungry press corps.

"If I'm Bernie Sanders and I don't have the resources I need to run TV ads, I would not give up hope," said Darry Sragow, a longtime California Democratic strategist.

Clinton's campaign has yet not reserved any TV advertising time in California, and is hoping to spend as little money as possible on the remaining primary states. It only needs a fraction of remaining delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

"I think that a lot of voters have a pretty strong sense that they'll able to make judgements about Bernie Sanders. And that means that the conventional wisdom - the conventional wisdom almost always being wrong — that he can't win CA without a huge TV buy is something that I think people should be skeptical of," said Sragow.

Already, the Vermont senator has made up an impressive ground in California.

"I'm looking at the trend line - we've done five polls between Clinton and Sanders - and he's closed the gap in each of those," said Mark DiCamillo, the director of the Field Poll.

Sanders started at just six percent in that first poll in January, but has since risen to within striking distance of Clinton.

Sanders: I am the strongest candidate to beat Trump

Independents are allowed to vote in the state's Democratic primary, which could be major boon for Sanders, since those voters tend to break heavily in his direction.

Still, he'll face demographic hurdles. Clinton won in 2008 by eight percentage points, and this year she's likely to add to her column most of the African-American voters who sided with Obama.

Sanders will need to galvanize progressive voters, especially in the liberal Bay Area, to turn out in large numbers, while trying to come as close to breaking even as possible with Latinos, who made up 30 percent of the vote in 2008.

He also seems to be focusing on the Central Valley, the vast agricultural region in the interior of the state that mostly votes Republican in general elections, with back-to-back rallies this week in Stockton and Sacramento.

Clinton, meanwhile, is favored in Southern California, which is more diverse and more populous, but tends to turn out in lower numbers.

Sanders is also still holding out hope for another primary in California, which Clinton's campaign agreed to in principle earlier this year, when they pushed to add another debate before New Hampshire.

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