So guess who isn't coming to dinner tonight, and in so doing establishing some kind of record in the annals of the 64-year-old White House Correspondents' Association?

He is Jimmy Carter who as president of the United States, by tradition, is guest of honor at the annual black-tie event.

White House Press Secretary Jody Powell informed New YOrk Daily News correspondent Paul Healy, association president, on Thursday that Carter would not attend but instead would go to Camp David for the weekend.

"Jody told me he's near the point of exhaustion, he's very tired," said Healy who also had been told by Powell in February, when the invitation was extended officially, that Carter would attend the dinner "barring a crisis."

Yesterday, an aide in Powell's office said the president "is not required" to go to each dinner and that in fact, he had attended the correspondents' 1977 dinner.

"He didn't go to the radio and television correspondents' dinner last year," said the aide, "but he went this year."

Whether that meant a new policy of alternating dinner obligations was going into effect was unclear. What "See DINNER, B6, Col. 2> is clear to members who keep track of such data is that they cannot remember correspondents' dinner that either the first lady or the vice president has not substituted for an absent chief executive.

Rosalynn Carter was invited but declined in order to accompany her husband to Camp David; Walter Mondale leaves tomorrow on his trip to Southwest Asia.

Lyndon B. Johnson delined one year but true to form and to no one's surprise, showed up the night of the dinner where his vice president Huert Horatio Humphrey, had agreed to substitute as speaker.

Another year, Pat Nixon was Richard Nixon's stand-in, thereby becoming the first first lady in the club's history to represent her husband. The following year, in 1973, at the height of Watergate, Nixon himself attended, delaying his arrival until after the presentation of awards to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Cari Bernstein.

In 1974 when Gerald Ford substituted for Nixon, the ritualistic toast "to the president" was altered to include "and the vice president."

Plans for the $35-a-plate dinner have been under way for several months. Printed programs, to be found at each plate tonight, will carry the presient's name as among the 1,800 persons present. And a gift that was to be presented to him will be set aside.

"We'll save it until next year and hope he comes," said Jack Horner, dinner chairman.

Ranking guest will be Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. Featured as fill-in speaker for Carter, whose own remarks were known to have been drafted by his speechwriters this week, will be Jody Powell whom correspondents get to hear every day.

Free of charge.