How many candidates are still in this for the Democrats?

Even longtime campaign reporters have to pause and silently count on their fingers whenever the question comes up. As of this writing, a dozen Democrats are still running for president.

Not all of them will be on every state’s ballot. For example, billionaire Mike Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, entered the race in November, and immediately said he would skip the early nominating states to focus on Super Tuesday states and beyond — to the grumbling of some voters and party officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Is President Trump guaranteed to be the Republican nominee?

With all due respect to Republican challengers such as Joe Walsh and Bill Weld, President Trump will almost certainly be the Republican presidential nominee.

Some states, including Arizona, Nevada and South Carolina, have canceled their GOP primaries or caucuses, citing an opportunity to save taxpayer money in the face of, they say, an inevitable Trump win. Of course, with Trump’s impeachment trial underway in the Senate, there’s always a chance that the Republican nominee could end up being someone other than Trump.

What about third-party candidates?

On the Democratic side, what are the story lines we should be watching as the voting begins? Why pay attention to Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina – four states without a lot of delegates?

The ultimate “story line,” of course, is which Democratic candidate emerges from the primary with the majority of the party’s 3,979 pledged delegates, making him or her the party’s nominee to challenge Trump in this fall’s general election.

It’s true that the four early-nominating states account for only 155 delegates, or less than 4 percent of the total. But traditionally, a win in Iowa — the first state to caucus, on Feb. 3 — can turbocharge a campaign and convince nervous voters that a particular candidate is electable.

Having a strong showing in Iowa has been a clear priority for some Democrats, such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.); Pete Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Ind.; and businessman Andrew Yang. Others, including former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) have tried to play down the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire, focusing in turn on a longer-haul national race. Bloomberg, as mentioned earlier, is skipping the first four nominating states entirely.

What is Super Tuesday, and what should we be looking for on that day? Are there other days with large numbers of delegates at stake?

“Super Tuesday” — Tuesday, March 3 — is the day that 14 states will vote in Democratic primaries, and 1,357 of the pledged delegates are up for grabs. That makes up one-third of the total available pledged delegates, and it has the potential to shift the race.

The Super Tuesday states include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. American Samoa will also hold a Democratic caucus on Super Tuesday, while some Democrats living abroad will be able to vote starting March 3.

There are other dates on which multiple states vote and large numbers of delegates are at stake, but none has as catchy a nickname.

On Tuesday, March 10, 352 delegates will be up for grabs from Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington.

On Tuesday, March 17, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio will vote, awarding 577 delegates.

And on Tuesday, April 28, voters in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island will decide how 663 delegates are divvied up.

How long will it all last? Is it possible that we will not know who the Democratic nominee is when the convention begins? What are "superdelegates," and do they still exist after 2016?

Democratic primaries in states and U.S. territories will stretch into early summer; the last one will be held in the U.S. Virgin Islands on June 6, when seven delegates will beawarded. Presumably the Democratic nominee — the person with a clear majority of pledged delegates — will be clear by then. Or clearer, at least.

Or not clear at all! It is possible, especially if few candidates drop out along the way, that no one will have more than half of the pledged delegates by the time the Democratic National Convention is held in mid-July.

In that case, myriad scenarios could play out: For instance, on the first vote, pledged delegates — who can technically vote for whomever they want — could align themselves differently from their statewide distribution numbers, perhaps based on behind-the-scenes dealmaking between the campaigns.

There will still be “superdelegates” — mostly party insiders — who can vote at the Democratic convention, but under new Democratic National Committee rules, they will do so only if a second round of ballots is required.

How long will the process last? Well, technically, the beauty of living in a democracy means that the next election cycle is never far away.

We’ll do this all again in four years.