The emerging battle has those in both camps looking over their shoulders — with Biden seeking to claim the center mantle by gaining unstoppable momentum from the early states and Bloomberg’s sprawling operation prepared to pick up the pieces should he falter or seem too weak to win.

Bloomberg’s aides continue to express concerns that Biden and the rest of the Democrats competing in the early states would lose to Trump. They view it as increasingly likely that there will be muddle coming out of South Carolina. And they see Bloomberg’s behemoth organization, growing stable of Super Tuesday endorsements and ability to stretch the map with limitless cash as giving him the edge…

Biden could knock out Bloomberg with a strong start in the early-state gauntlet. Or, an unexpectedly poor showing could put his campaign on life support, allowing Bloomberg to step into the void. The more likely outcome is somewhere between.

The worst-case scenario for establishment Democrats is that the two 77-year-olds end up dividing moderate support, at a time when the left is coalescing around one standard-bearer.