The uphill struggle of state Sen. Theo Mitchell (D) to become South Carolina's first black governor has become even more difficult with the loss of public support from what was anticipated to be part of his political base.

First, the South Carolina Conference of Black Mayors, at a news conference attended by 20 black mayors, spurned Mitchell and instead endorsed Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. (R).

Then, the predominantly black African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, with a membership of 75,000 in 190 churches in South Carolina, said it would back Campbell's reelection bid. Bishop Richard L. Fisher called Campbell "one of the brightest political stars on the horizon," and said, "I don't believe the Democratic Party in this state is ready to support a black candidate."

Mitchell dismissed the mayors' endorsement as practical politics.

But he was furious over the church's endorsement of Campbell. He accused Fisher, a Republican, of showing "the kind of plantation mentality that kept blacks enslaved beyond the time when they should have been emancipated."

Betsy Durant, executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said she does not believe the endorsements translate into votes for Campbell. "Although it is embarrassing for the Mitchell campaign," she said, "the endorsements don't say as much about Mitchell's candidacy as they do about Carroll Campbell's power to send monies into black communities."