Political handicappers anticipate a Jimmy Carter-Jerry Brown shoot-out in 1978, and both men are already sizing each other up. Even before his first year in office ended, Carter met privately with fellow Democrats acquainted with Brown to ask them about the enigmatic California governor. And both camps await publication next month of an unflattering portrait of Brown by ex-staffer J. D. Lorenz who describes Brown as a master manipulator of symbols, long on style but short on substance.

"I think the politics of California is ominous and to the extent that California style becomes the prevalent mode in this country, I think people east of the Sierra Nevada should know what they're getting in for," says Lorenz, who moved to Washington recently to head the Council for Public Interest Law.

Lorenz joined the Brown campaign in early 1974 as an issues man to help the gubernatorial candidate prepare for debates. "But after the first debate," says Lorenz, "it became clear that Jerry would be able to finesse the whole thing with very little substantive input --what he and his adviser Tom Quinn call the quick and dirty approach -- and my role switched to one of official listener to Jerry's monologues about how he'd conduct government once elected."

Brown apparently liked his sounding board, appointing Lorenz head of the state's employment department. It didn't take long for Lorenz to sense a lack of interest on the part of his boss to the problems of unemployment: "He told me, 'Until I see blacks rioting in the streets, I won't have anything to do with the unemployment issue,'" Lorenz recalls. "That was a hard-hitting political analysis of where the job issue was, and as long as he could get through with a few conditional approvals in support of the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, that's all he had to do in the '76 campaign."

Lorenz was fired from his job in mid-1975 after he and Brown disagreed on the direction of Lorenz's administration.

Today Lorenz finds similarities between Brown and Carter's use of symbols (Brown's flying to London aboard cut-rate Laker Airways; Carter's modest inaugural walk) though he thinks the men have different assumptions about life.

"Carter is a positive person who thinks it's possible to come up with half-way decent solutions," argues Lorenz. "Jerry has a more pessimistic view of human nature; he believes the best you can do is keep people from destroying each other, including himself.And while Carter is fascinated with administration, Brown is repulsed by it.

"Jerry is a representative political figure for the decade, he epitomizes the political future of the Seventies," says Lorenz, "the way Martin Luther King did for the Sixties. The politics of symbolism and escapism which I think characterizes this period is a stage like adolescence which we'll outgrow."

Will America outgrow Jerry Brown by 1978?

"Who can tell?" answers Lorenz. "As Jerry would say, 'Life is mysterious, what is reality?'"