WASHINGTON • Reeling from their losses in Tuesday's primaries, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Texas senator Ted Cruz abruptly reordered their campaigns, aiming to preserve some small hope that the race might yet turn in their favour.
Mr Cruz named former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina as his running mate to help bring down Republican front runner Donald Trump. Both spoke of Mr Trump in the language of relentless opposition, casting him as a sinister figure who must not be allowed to become president.
On the Democratic side, Mr Sanders said he would scale back his upstart bid for the White House and lay off hundreds of campaign workers, a measure seemingly intended to extend the life of his candidacy but not to prepare for an election.
In an interview, Mr Sanders acknowledged in the strongest terms yet that Mrs Hillary Clinton's delegate lead might have closed off his path to the nomination, and he was less combative towards his party's front runner, taking a tone of cold realism, if not quite resignation.
Stymied in his efforts this week to challenge Mrs Clinton's dominance in the urban north-east, Mr Sanders said he would now focus his efforts chiefly on the June 7 primary in California, a state laden with both delegates and political symbolism.
By winning there, he said, he hoped to strengthen his hand before the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, where he would push his core priorities into the party platform.
"If we can win the largest state in this country, that will send a real message to the American people," he said, "and to the delegates that this is a campaign that is moving in the direction it should."
The Sanders campaign said late on Wednesday that it would continue to maintain a staff of more than 300 as the race moved towards California. The campaign had about 1,000 workers during the initial nominating contests.
Mr Sanders did not rule out a comeback before the end of primary voting in June. But he has appeared to tone down his antagonism towards Mrs Clinton in recent days, abandoning his brief attacks on her qualifications for the presidency and instead focusing on her policy stances and ties to Wall Street.
If Mr Sanders seemed to bow to political reality - and to the apparent inevitability of Mrs Clinton becoming the party's nominee - on the Democratic side, Mr Cruz took a far more defiant line in the Republican race.
Walloped by Mr Trump in the past six primaries and lagging behind him in polls before next week's contest in Indiana, Mr Cruz made a daring but somewhat desperate announcement: that in the event of his nomination, Ms Fiorina would be his vice-presidential running mate.
Appearing alongside Ms Fiorina in Indianapolis, Mr Cruz delivered a rousing speech, castigating his rival as an untrustworthy narcissist. He and Ms Fiorina jointly criticised the news media for rushing to treat Mr Trump's win in the nomination fight as a foregone conclusion. The Republican race, she said, was a struggle "for the soul of our party and the future of our nation".
Mr Cruz's selection of Ms Fiorina may present a perilous challenge for Mr Trump, faced with mounting criticism of his derisive remarks about women, including his repeated claims that Mrs Clinton's sole political asset is "the woman's card".
Far more conventional is Mr Sanders' shift towards a strategy of dogged and benign persistence rather than aggressive confrontation with Mrs Clinton.
Few losing candidates in recent memory have generated the kind of electric energy within the Democratic base that Mr Sanders has in this year's campaign. Democratic leaders are especially sensitive to his following among young people, who have voted for him by staggering margins, and whose support Mrs Clinton may rely on against Mr Trump in the Nov 8 election.
Even if Mr Sanders shies away from direct conflict with Mrs Clinton, he could still be an irksome presence in the race. He is likely to win several primaries next month, and a large-scale effort in California could pressure Mrs Clinton to spend time and money there to forestall an embarrassing upset.
NEW YORK TIMES
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