WASHINGTON - Bernie Sanders' campaign team called on Hillary Clinton to relent and agree to hold a debate between the Democratic presidential hopefuls in New York before the state primary on April 19.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is hanging on in the race for the party ticket and trounced frontrunner Clinton at the weekend in three western states.
He will need to replicate that stunning success in the remaining states with the three largest delegate allocations - California, New York and Pennsylvania - if he is to stand any hope of pulling off a shock and beating the former secretary of state to the party nomination.
The last debate was in Miami on March 9 and two more are theoretically planned for April and May, with dates and venues undecided.
Sanders, a Vermont senator originally from Brooklyn, is pushing for New York to be one of the venues. Opinion polls show Clinton well ahead in the state.
"It has been disappointing that there seems to be some hedging on the part of the Clinton campaign," said Sanders's campaign manager Jeff Weaver in a call to reporters.
"To deny the people of New York the opportunity to see a debate, when it's a state where the secretary represented them, was elected twice to the US Senate, has her national headquarters in Brooklyn, to then say you're not willing to debate Bernie Sanders in New York, I think is just not going to be acceptable to voters in New York state." Joel Benenson, Clinton's chief strategist, accused Sanders of waging a "negative" campaign over his attacks on everything from the former first lady's links to Wall Street to the Iraq War.
"Let's see the tone of the campaign before we get to other questions," he told CNN.
"Senator Sanders doesn't get to decide when we debate, particularly when he's running a negative campaign."