ATLANTA - Former President Jimmy Carter praised his White House chief of staff yesterday as a master political strategist who helped make a "peanut farmer from the South" president of the United States.

Hamilton Jordan, 63, died Tuesday at his Atlanta home after a long fight against lymphoma. Carter said he talked to Jordan Tuesday afternoon.

"He was in good spirits. He was quite lucid. I think he was reconciled to his death," the former president said.

During Carter's administration, Jordan participated in the 1978 talks leading to the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. He also was involved in efforts to end the Iranian hostage crisis.

Carter told reporters that Jordan "was one of the world's extraordinary people. He had an incisive analysis of this nation, what it stood for, what its people desired, the political process. He was a superb strategist."

Carter knew Jordan for 42 years, beginning when the University of Georgia student helped him with his unsuccessful first campaign for Georgia governor.

"He saw why it wasn't successful, so he came back four years later and he managed my successful gubernatorial campaign, and then, two years later, began to work with four other people and put together a definitive political strategy for a relatively unknown peanut farmer from the South to prevail on a national campaign."

Jordan outlined a grassroots plan that included Carter, his wife, mother and other family members campaigning in seven different places five days a week. With no money, "We spent the night in people's homes."

"Literally, we had the election won before the other candidates knew what had hit them," Carter said.

He cited Jordan's "extreme personal resilience and personal courage" through years of suffering with cancer.

His friend inspired others, he said, with the view that, "Even when you get the most extremely bad news that you can possible get, that you have terminal illness, you can still make the most of every day you have left." *