Vice President Mondale today brushed aside growing Democratic criticism of President Carter and predicted that he would recover from his low standing in the polls and become more acceptable to his party than Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
At a press conference where almost every question concerned the rising intraparty criticism of the president, Mondale turned his fire on Democratic dissenters, saying that their protest dinner of the night pefore was "a shambles." He also denied that Carter was pressuring Israel to accept a Middle East peace settlement on unfavorable terms.
"I think it's fair to say that the president of the United States has tried harder and exercised more leadership to bring peace in the Middle East than any president since the creation of the state of Israel," Mondale said.
He added that Carter had never pressured Israel to accept a settlement that would fail to guarantee ist security.
Objections to the president's policy on Israel were at the heart of a $25-a-plate "black tie protest dinner" held in the same hotel Mondale spoke in 24 hours later.
In a speech that often was interrupted by applause, retired major general George F. Keegan, former Air Force chief of intelligence, said that, "president Carter's policy in the Middle East is almost uniformally wrong, ill-considered and misinformed."
Mondale substituted for Carter here tonight at a $1,000-a-plate dinner that the vice president called "the most successful fund-raising dinner in the history of the Democratic Party." Even one of the dinner officials privately called this statement "somewhat extravagant."
Party officials said they expected 900 persons to attend the fund-raiser, but surveys of the crowd indicated a turnout of slightly more than 700.
Though Mondale is personally popular, his role as a substitute subjected him to the objections of various groups, including Jews and Mexican Americans, who have complained about Carter's policies.The vice president met with representatives of these groups privately and with a group of teachers before attending the dinner.
The dinner, which Carter had to forgo because of his meeting with Israeli Prime Ninister Menachem Begin, has been beset with trouble almost since it was announced. On Wednesdday, Leo S. Wyler, one of the dinner's cochairmen, resigned from the committee and canceled his $10,000 contribution to the party on grounds that representatives of the Democratic National Committee had criticized the dissenters as being "flakes."
Wyler is a member of Democrats for Change 1980, which today greeted Mondale with a page-and-a-half ad in the Los Angeles Times accusing Carter of being a failure.
"He has neither listened nor led," said the ad, which identified Kennedy as "the leading choice among Democrats everywhere."
Mondale acknowledged that Kennedy had a wide lead over Carter in public opinion polls but suggested that this could be overcome by people realizing that Carter was "trying his best" to deal with the difficult issues of the Middle East, strategic arms limitation talds, inflation and energy.
"If this is the perception of the American people, I think we're going to be in excellent shape," Mondale said.
The perception of a growing number of critical Democrats here, many the same party leaders who turned on President Johnson in 1968, is that the people think Carter is thoroughly lacking in leadership capability. It was a question that confronted Mondale many times today and which he answered essentially in the same way every time: Carter is doing the best he can.
"It is not in the nature of a Democratic Party to make an incumbent president feel good," said Mondale. "They like to make you feel lousy as much as possible...."