President Carter paraded his newly won reputation as peacemaker on a political swing through his native South yesterday and found the politicians and people responsive.
Stumping North and South Carolina for a pair of underdog Democratic Senate candidates, Carter heard local politicans competing to come up with biblical quotations worthly of what one congressman called "the greatest peacemaking accomplishment of our time."
The only complaint from the Democrats was the Republicans were trying to horn in on the glory of Camp David.
Sen. Jesse A Helms (R-N.C.), one of Carter's strongest conservative critics, took out ads in several North Carolina newspapers welcoming Carter to the state and praising the "framework of peace" agreement the president negotiated with Israel and Egypt.
State Insurance Commissioner John Ingram, Helms'Democratic foe in November and the beneficiary of a presidential appearance at a $500-a-person picnic here, told Carter at an airport rally that Helm "rode Richard Nixon's coattails to Washington and we're not going to let him ride your coattails to a second term."
Perhaps the clearest indication of the improvement in Carter's political fortunes since Camp David was the eagerness of Democratic politicans here and in Columbia, S.C., his second stop, to cluster close to the president and identify themselves with him and his program.
The reception on his first political swing since the summit bolstered public opinion polls showing a jump of 13 to 16 points in the president's previously low approval ratings.
This trip - designed mainly to help Ingram and Charles D. (Pug) Ravenel; the underdog Democrat challenging Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) - had been postponed a week by the prolonged Camp David meeting.
Carter told a crowd of a few thousand people at the Asheville airport, "It's partially to your credit we finally did end the summit successfully 'cause I was anxious to get to North Carolina."
And then he joshed: "I wasn't the only one anxious to get out of Camp David. The last day, when everything seemed to be going wrong, Prime Minister Begin said, 'Mr. President Israel will get out of Sinai if you just let me out of Camp David.'"
Carter seemed to be deliberately underplaying the diplomatic achievement for which he was being extravagantly praised by other speakers.Instead he stressed improvements he said his administration had brought in agriculture and employment, and its success in keeping his election campaign commitments, including the imminent passage of the civil service revision bill.
He also played some old-fashioned pork barrel politics, including the announcement of a $2 million federal grant to lengthen the Asheville airport runway by 1,500 feet. Air Force One and the accompanying press plane both bounced hard in landing on the existing short strip.
Carter also announced an agreement to permit the North Carolina government added discretion in channeling federal funds to the economic development of rural areas and small towns. That program is a favorite of Democratic Gov. James Hunt, who was a major Carter cheerleader at last month's National Governor's Conference.
Carter made a passing reference to the Panama Canal treaties, one of the main issues blamed for the earlier decline in his popularity in a state he carried handily in 1976.
"Some of you didn't like what I did," he told the airport crowd, "but we have achieved a new spirit in Latin America . . . and with that spirit, we can keep out the spread of communism in this hemisphere.