THIS COMBINATION HISTORY of past woman's political campaigns and "how-to" primer for future women candidates deserves examination. The proliferation of women in politics promises to effect a sea change on our governmental attitudes and apparatus. "Change has begun. Yet women are well aware that no welcome mat awaits them at the entranceway to electoral power, and the forces of history and custom will influence the ratio of women to men among political candidates in the years to come," writes Ruth Mandel, who is director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University. "They know that ingrained images of women still function to restrict their behavior in competitive activities, and that the typical patterns of women's private lives are difficult to mesh with political candidacies."

Though "women are still so small a factor in the equation of political power" that quantitative judgments cannot be drawn, the implications for society of a more equitable gender balance in our elective offices are fascinating, quasi-revolutionary, and, to some, threatening. Mandel has written a readable and thoroughly documented treatise of the status of women as candidates and the distinct problems they face: campaign money is more difficult to come by if you are female, and there are many psychological barriers to overcome. "New assumptions," she writes, "about who is responsible for managing a household and nuturing its members will mean questioning and dislodging old and deeply rooted attitudes . . . . During a time of transition from old habits to new patterns of behavior, family members may be coping with guilt because they fly in the face of time-honored traditions."

Among the special and specific problems women face as political animals are the stereotypical views that both hinder and help: "Women must appear strong and assertive at the same time they look and sound feminine; they must be tough with the opposition but avoid seeming strident." It is possible that Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady summed up the confusion in his petulant song, "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" That antithetical query probably applies more aptly to the political stage than to the musical. "She acts too much like a man . . . for a woman," complained one male candidate of his female challenger. "The classic problem of the ambitious woman is how to be assertive enough to get what she wants without being charged as aggressive or unfeminine and thereby dismissed as abnormal . . . . A woman's major problem is not in being attacked, but in attacking." A proposed Irma Bombeck title for a book on the women's movement, "I Am Going to Assert Myself (If You Don't Mind)," describes the conflict that women face in and out of politics in trying realistically to realign traditional stereotypes with new imperatives. On the plus side for women candidates are the perceptions that "the female of the species is less corruptible than her male counterpart" and that "they will [more] conscientiously attend to constituents' problems and be on the spot when needed." Do voters want mothers as well as fathers? It might make a more complete political family.

Mandel is generous with examples of personal political sagas, analyzing both successful and unsuccessful quests. At least one major factor she did not fully scrutinize in the new equations of men, women and their widening circle of acceptable career choices is the economic exigency of the two-income household, with mom and pop both employed. This fact of life has challenged the traditional perception of women as the sole keeper of the hearth. Economic pragmatism has a way of forcing change in life style more quickly than anything as ephemeral as a human-rights movement. Is it possible that inflation has been the secret ally of women's rights? Whether inflation advances or recedes or supply-side economics succeeds in increasing available goods enough to lover prices or not, women seem to be in the labor market and workplace to stay. As a result, they will be more and more in evidence as political beings and participants.

A growing sense of financial and political autonomy will make it chokingly difficult to swallow such snake oil as that hawked by the Reverend Jerry Falwell when he says that women should have a "superior" place in society. Caveat emptor: or watch out for those who promise you more than you deserve. Further, in such legislation as the Senate Bill 158 on Human Life and H. R. 3118, the Family Protection Act, there resides the same kind of dark and punitive obsession that drove Mr. Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre to force Jane's young friend, Helen, to cut off her hair because its and her beauty disturbed him. Sponsors and supporters of such legislation should take heed: pious hypocrisy often begets angry response. In Somerset Maugham's story Rain , the prostitute Sadie Thompson is "saved" and then seduced by the Reverend Davison who ends badly on a beach with his throat cut. Surely so sharp a fate does not await our latter-day scolds, but as they exercise increasing influence, women want to share fully in the decisions that affect their lives. In the Running is a fine testimony to a growth industry: women as political partners.