Twenty Democratic governors today jointly endorsed the renomination and reelection of President Carter, declaring he has "been true to the principles" of his party and "deserves the support of every Democrat."
Eight other Democratic governors -- including probable challenger Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. of California -- skipped the meeting, and four who were present -- including Harry Hughes of Maryland -- abstained from what one of them called a White House-inspired move to "herd us into a premature endorsement" of the president.
They acted in a caucus just two hours before Vice President Mondale told the opening session of the National Governors Association that there would be "no partisan profit" for anyone, Republican or Democrat, if the nation failed to stem its growing dependence on foreign oil.
"If we win this fight, we will win it together," Mondale said. "If we lose this fight, we will lose it together. There is no partisan profit in failute."
Mondale's emotional rhetoric was described by aided as the opening gun in an administration effort to mobolize public and political support for the "strong" new energy program President Carter apparently is seeking to put together in his Camp David consultations. TMondale said that part of the new Carter program would be "an Appollo project to produce alternative Fuels," a program that he hinted could cost billions of dollars.
Republican governors meeting in their own caucus before the Mondale speech, agreed to withhold political criticism of the president while the Camp David meetings continue, but expressed broad skepticism that he would emerge with any credible answers for the energy problem.
Gov. Otis Bowen of Indiana, the only Republican governor invited to Camp David, told the GOP caucus, "We should afford him the luxury of a few days to collect the information he needs to design a new program." But when Gov. Lee S. Dreyfus of Wisconsin said that "it sounds like they don't have a policy now," Bowen replied, "That's right."
There was no specific reference to energy policy in the Democratic governors' resolution endorsing Carter. It praised the president as a man who "has put our country back to work and has kept the nation at peace."
The resolution was offered by Gov. Ella Grasso of Connecticut, but its introduction and support were orchestrated by a dozen White House, Democratic National Committee and Carter-Mondale Committee aides hovering around the meeting room.
One of the four abstainers, Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado, said that Eugene Eidenberg, a deputy assistant to the president, had phoned him Saturday night to say that Lamm would be welcome to join three other Democratic governors who met today with Carter at Camp David if he were going to be "a member of the team" for the reelection bid.
Lamm, chairman of the governors' Committee on Natural Resources, told Eidenberg he would not support the resolution and was omitted from the governors' delegation as he had been last Friday, When Bowen and seven Democrats went to see the president.
In addition to Lamm and Hughes, the holdouts on today's resolution were Govs. Joseph E. Brennan of Maine and George Nigh of Oklahima. All four said they were supportive of Carter but were not prepared to endorse him. Lamm offered an alternative resolutions, which he said Brennan and Hughes endorsed, that would have offered "good wishes and support" to a president who is "overburdened and underrated."
But Carter's political aides, viewing the governors as his most solid cadre of party support, held out for the resolution of endorsement and obtained it, albeit without the unanimity they desired.
The 20 governors who pledged their backing, along with Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, who was sitting in for the absent Hugh Carey, constitute the first significant bloc of elected officials to endorse the president. But Lamm said that as an endorsement the resolution has comparable to "an 8-to-7 vote from the board of directors to wish an ailing executive a speedy recovery."
In addition to Brown and Carey, those absent from Louisville included the governors of Alabama, Hawaii Louisiana, Missouri, Utah and West Virginia.
In the political give-and-take that preceded the vote, some of the most pointed criticism came from Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, who was the 1976 Carter-for-President chairman in his state.
With Mondale listening Clinton said the adminstration was in trouble because people "feel no sense of movement or involvement with the president," because his oratory has been ineffective, the tone of his energy proposals unnecessarily negative and his administration ill-coordinated in its approach to energy.