An incumbent Democratic president with a successful legislative record but lagging in the polls. He’s forced to run as a write-in candidate in the New Hampshire primary, a state he hadn’t planned to campaign in at all. He’s facing a Democrat who’s embraced populist themes like opposing America’s role in a bloody, foreign war.

President Lyndon Johnson in 1968? Or President Joe Biden six months from now?

It’s true: LBJ was so confident he would be re-nominated in 1968 that he never bothered to qualify for ballot access in the First in the Nation primary. When Minnesota Sen. Eugene “Clean Gene” McCarthy’s campaign, focused on opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, began to take off, the White House political team had to scramble to get Granite Staters to write in the president’s name.

Did it work? Well, LBJ won a plurality of the vote, 48-42 percent, over McCarthy. But such a poor performance by an incumbent president inspired Robert F. Kennedy to enter the primary, and Johnson soon headed for the exits — the last time an incumbent president eligible to seek another term declined to do so.

Today it is Biden, bragging about the Inflation Reduction Act but polling at 31 percent, who isn’t planning to campaign in the Granite State, according to media reports.

And it’s RFK’s son, who is already polling around 20 percent among Democrats, who plans to be on the ballot in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom is doing national TV ads and raising money for his PAC.

Having forced the DNC to dump Iowa and New Hampshire from the front of the primary calendar, Biden now faces the choice of either retracting his claims about the “too White” electorate of those early states and campaigning here; or ignoring the contests and hoping that beginning the primary season with two losses to RFK Jr doesn’t make him the next LBJ.

New England College President and political science professor Wayne Leseperance says Biden’s promise to keep his name off the ballot “is no surprise.”

“While his team will claim this is a principled position based on his support for the revised primary calendar, the reality is the president is afraid of being embarrassed in the early states. So, the decision to boycott the early states is a ploy to argue that the results are not relevant and invalid since he isn’t competing in those states.”

But in an article headlined, “Biden Could Lose First Two ’24 Contests to RFK Jr.,” Axios reported, “If Biden isn’t on the ballot, some Democrats have floated a write-in campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Political pros say a write-in campaign is fraught with danger for the incumbent.

“A write-in campaign would be risky,” said UNH political science professor Dante Scala. “They are very difficult to run, particularly statewide. Plus, the knives are out among New Hampshire Democrats when it comes to Biden. Activists are upset with him — what better way to teach him a lesson than to let him lose as a write-in? It would send a message about messing with New Hampshire.”

Better to simply skip them and, assuming Biden loses, count on the Democrat-dominated media to downplay the results.

And then there’s the RFK Jr. problem. Candidates who challenge their own party’s incumbent presidents are often unknown, underfunded, and easy to dismiss. Kennedy, on the other hand, has a celebrity name, plenty of money, and two issues — vaccines and green activism — that energize voters and will help drive turnout.

“You’re not going to beat him with a few Manchester wards doing write-ins for the Democrats,” one veteran New Hampshire politico told NHJournal. “He’s not a protest vote. Kennedy is the kind of candidate who can get thousands of people to turn out.”

Perhaps more accurately, Kennedy would isn’t just a protest vote. There are also plenty of Democrats who might be happy to cast a ballot against Biden out of anger over his decision to strip the state of its primary. Others may fear he’s not mentally or physically up to the job.

Polls show only one-third of New Hampshire Democrats want Biden to run again.

The age issue also plays into calculations about skipping (and losing) the primary vs. waging a write-in campaign. Kennedy campaigning in New Hampshire while Biden stays home in Rehoboth Beach will be a reminder of the president’s infirmity and limited ability to hit the stump.

An 81-year-old president who won’t (or can’t) campaign and then loses back-to-back contests to a candidate dismissed as “fringe” won’t be doing himself any favors.

“Any time you take off a day, you could get replaced,” said Emerson College Director of Polling Spencer Kimball. “If Biden chooses not to debate and go to New Hampshire, he might create the opportunity for someone to be showcased and capture public sentiment — think Obama at the 2004 Democratic convention.

“If a challenger beats Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire, it will be a moral victory, one that could be used to try and create momentum to compete in larger states like California.”

Asked about the Axios report, a Team Kennedy spokesperson responded, “No comment.”

And as in the case of LBJ, it might not knock Biden out but might bring stronger challengers into the race.

All of which is why some Democrats continue to tell NHJournal off the record that they believe Biden will back down and put his name on the New Hampshire ballot. And, they say, Biden and the DNC have no one to blame for this mess but themselves.

“They were warned,” a Democratic source said.

Not that write-in campaigns can’t be winners.

“In 1964, the Republican primary in New Hampshire was a hard-fought, nasty personal battle between New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Sen. Barry Goldwater. Rocky was a Dartmouth grad and had most of the traditional party leadership. Goldwater had the strong and vociferous support of [Union-Leader publisher] William Loeb.

“After a long and ugly campaign, there were some in New Hampshire who tired of it. A group of centrist Republicans in Concord said basically, ‘A plague on both your houses’ and announced a write-in campaign for [former Mass. Sen.] Henry Cabot Lodge, then serving as ambassador to Vietnam,” Rath recounted.

Lodge never campaigned, never gave a speech, never discussed the race, but when the votes were counted, he was the winner of the GOP primary.

“It was my first campaign experience in New Hampshire politics, and it taught me a lesson I am still scarred by today,” Rath said.