WHAT IF THEY gave a New Hampshire primary and nobody came? The sentiment represents an age-old, even primal, yearning that starts up every four years, just about now. Only try to envision it: Life without the thing about the Kennedy write-in; without the sudden (though mercifully short-lived) up-puffing into national fame of all those New Hampshire state legislators and hacks; without the continuous and stupefyingly boring handing back and forth of Underdog and Overdog status; without the "color" stories about coffee klatches and snow; without yet another (will it be the 197th?) explanation of the meaning, if any, of publisher William Loeb; life, in short, without that awful doomed feeling, comparable only to the knowledge that you have an overdue dental appointment on your schedule, that New Hampshire is coming.

Well, New Hampshire is coming. Ask Jerry Brown, if you think that's not true. The California governor fits wonderfully and perfectly into the New Hampshire primary scam. He has already been up there trying to make it looks as if something unreal (his impact on the thinking of state leaders about the federal budget) were real. That is very much in the spirit of what the dragged-out New Hamsphire event has come to mean. And so is the fact that this kind of manipulation of reality is itself at once transformed into a separate kind of political reality, so that by now we already have a classically familiar New Hampshire phenomenon: Jerry Brown claims he had an impact, but others have demonstrated that this is not so, leading to the inevitable speculation that the governor "hurt" himself by his maneuver and-most assuredly-lying the groundwork for a subsequent around of speculations to the effect that, surprisingly, the attempt to make Mr. Brown look a clod has backfired , if not actually blacklashed, creating a new surge of support for the Californian. And it's only April.

Nobody ever remembers who actually won in New Hampshire, and on the rare occasions when people do remember they usually remember wrong. For example, they remember that Lyndon Johnson lost the New Hampshire primary to Eugene McCarthy, whereas in fact the done-in Mr. Johnson just didn't win it big enough to overwhelm the wow-he-didn't-win-it-big-enough chorus that is always waiting off stage in New Hampshire to sing yet another refrain of the old song. But boycotting New Hampshire would, unfortunately, take a degree of organization, mutual trust and self-restraint among this season's politicians that it would be utterly naive to hope for. At best you'd get a lot of agreements not to participate and then-on voting day-the result of precisely that many supposedly undirected write-in campaigns.

So we give up: There is no point pushing the idea. And maybe anyway we'd miss it ourselves if it went, since New Hampshire after all represents a singular chance for recurrent expressions of editorial gloom. Now here is our gloomiest contribution for this time's go-around. Did you realize that even as the 1980 New Hampshire primary gets under way, the Federal Elections Commission-put in business to bring order and equity to some part of our crazy electoral process-has yet to close its books on all of the candidates involved in the 1976 New Hampshire disturbance?