Facing elimination, Bernie Sanders declined Monday to look past primary contests in California and five other states as Hillary Clinton inches closer to securing enough delegates to become the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Campaigning in San Francisco, Sanders would not speculate to reporters about what a poor showing in Tuesday's primaries might mean to his presidential campaign. "Let me just talk to you after the primary here in California where we hope to win. Let's assess where we are after tomorrow," he said.
The Vermont senator's tone was more subdued after saying over the weekend that the Democratic convention would be contested if no one wins the nomination based solely on delegates awarded in the primaries and caucuses. And Sanders faced new questions about the future of his campaign amid reports that President Barack Obama was readying an endorsement of Clinton.
Clinton is now 23 delegates short of the 2,383 needed to win the nomination, according to an Associated Press count, based on a combination of pledged delegates and superdelegates.
The former secretary of state has 1,812 pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses; Sanders has 1,521. When superdelegates are included, her lead over Sanders is 2,360 to 1,567, according to the AP survey.
Sanders and Clinton are competing in contests in six states on Tuesday, headlined by California, the nation's largest state, offering 475 pledged delegates. Clinton, a former New York senator, is heavily favored in Tuesday's New Jersey primary and winning a share of the state's 142 pledged delegates would likely put her over the top.
Obama, who bested Clinton in 2008 during her first bid for the Democratic nomination, is preparing to formally endorse her and start aggressively making the case against Trump. White House officials said the announcement could come within days, although not before Tuesday's elections.
Obama called Sanders on Sunday as he campaigned in California, a Democrat familiar with the call told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the private conversation, and would not reveal any details about it.
Asked by reporters in San Francisco if he had talked to Obama, Sanders demurred. "I have spoken to President Obama many, many times about many issues, and I really think it's not appropriate to talk about my discussions with the president," he said. "I try to keep that private."
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, who has won 20 states and pushed the heavily favored Clinton for the nomination, has outlined plans to influence the party platform and try to persuade superdelegates that he would fare better than Clinton against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
"Our goal is to get as many delegates as we possibly can and to make the case to superdelegates that I believe the evidence is fairly strong that I am the strongest candidate," Sanders said.
Sanders has previously said that Clinton should not be deemed the party's nominee because she would be relying on superdelegates - party officials and elected leaders - who do not actually vote until the Democratic National Convention.
But he did not make that case to reporters Monday, instead focusing on Tuesday's outcome. Rallying supporters at City College of San Francisco's Mission Center, Sanders said Clinton's voters were more reliable and he would need a large turnout among recently registered voters, independents and young people.
While Clinton has been in the driver's seat for the nomination for weeks, a victory by the front-runner in California would give Sanders much less leverage as he seeks to sway superdelegates.
"If I win tomorrow in California, if we do very well, and I don't know that we will - we may - and we do well in the other states, if there are superdelegates out there who say, 'you know what, looking at the objective evidence of polling, looking at the objective evidence of who has the strongest grassroots campaign and can bring out the larger voter turnout,' which I think is crucial for November, if some of those superdelegates begin to think that is Bernie Sanders, I think that is not an insignificant thing," he said.
Sanders has campaigned intensively in California for more than two weeks straight, blanketing the state with rallies and events in 34 cities aimed at talking directly to thousands of voters at a time.
He was capping the day with a concert rally featuring singer Dave Matthews and then traveling to Los Angeles on Tuesday for the primary. Sanders said he would return home to Vermont on Wednesday.