In the state of North Carolina, where tobacco is king and Joe Califano's name is mud there is joy at what is about to unfold.

On Saturday, just two weeks after Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Califano's latest denunciation of smoking. President Carter will visit a tobacco warehouse in Wilson N.C.

As the White House tells it, he will simply recognize the industry's importance as the state's economic mainstay without relaxing his firm opposition to cigarette smoking.

As the state's tobacco interests see it, it is far more than that. "I think the visit is a sign of support for the commodity." said James A. Graham, North Carolina commissioner of agriculture.

"Califano is very, very unpopular down here." said Graham. "I don't like him and nobody else likes him. I think he's a threat to our people."

"The fact that the president is coming here gives people the idea that he still has an interest in tobacco and wants to mendfences because of Califano." said Billy Yeargen. a spokesman for tobacco growers in North Carolina. "The farmers down here feel that the president should slap the wrist of Mr. Califano."

In fact, White House sources said the trip - which also includes a session of Democratic politicking - was timed in conjunction with the opening of the tobacco markets.

And while the sources maintain that there is no effort to undercut Califano's antismoking campaign, they acknowledge the need to "mend fences" damaged by him in an area that was a Carter stronghold in 1976.

"I think perhaps he knows what his image is in the industry," said Yeargen, "and he knows the need to better it."

Carter spokesmen and most HEW officials try to draw a sharp distinction between smoking and the cigarette companies, on the one hand, and the tobacco farmers and the millions of dollars in federal price supports they depend on for survival, on the other.

The industry doesn't draw such a fine line. "They may make the legal distinction," said Graham. "But we see it in terms of the farm economy. We've got $3 billion in farm income in this state and $1 billion comes from tobacco."

If the farmers lose federal loans to prop up their prices, they'll go out of business, said Yeargen. If people stop smoking cigarettes, the result will be the same.

John M. Pinney, Califano's director of the Office of Smoking and Health, agreed. "Any success we have in cutting down smoking will have an impact on their economy. That's true and that's a problem. The people who will suffer most if we cut down smoking are the people who grow it."

But Pinney said neither he nor Califano had any reservations about the president's visit. "I think it's fine for the president to go. If there's any symbolism in it, it is in the recognition that here is a major source of income for the people of North Carolina. I don't think it says anything about smoking."