President Carter said yesterday he hopes to get out on the campaign trail soon, but indicated he would avoid outright partisan events for the time being.

Last week, his campaign chairman, Robert S. Strauss, said the president soon would end his self-imposed isolation and start making campaign appearances.

Speaking with reporters after his appearance on the NBC TV program "Meet the Press" yesterday, Carter said it would be a mistake to begin campaigning too soon. "If I started too soon, the Iranians might take it as a signal that we are less concerned about the hostages," he said.

Instead of attending partisan political events, he said, he might try to schedule a press conference town meeting in a non-Washington location, "like New Hampshire."

"What's that 'misery index' you were talking about?" Carter asked NBC correspondent Judy Woodruff, after his apearance on "Meet the Press."

The index, which Carter used extensively in his 1976 campaign attacks on the economic policy of then-President Ford, is the sum of the unemployment and inflation rates. In 1976 the index was about 13 and Woodruff told the president it is now closer to 19. The higher the index, the worse the economy.

"We had a good time looking that one up," Woodruff told the president.

"You had a better time looking it up than I did answering it," he replied.

Former Illinois state representative John Porter of Evanston and Glencoe attorney Robert Weinberger face a showdown in a special election tomorrow for the congressional seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Abner Mikva.

Porter, a Republican, in 1978 lost narrowly to Mikva who recently left the office for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals. While Porter has been considered a favorite in this race, his Democratic opponent appears to be gaining support.

"I'd say that with a special election like this, the turnout will be low enough so that John Porter should not rent a house in Washington before the votes are counted," said state Rep. Alan Greiman, a Democrat from Skokie.