The cover blowup showed 10 faces you've seen before--all male. The headline read: "Who Runs America?"

"I looked at that poster to try to see what we had in common," one whose face is on the May 10 issue of U.S. News & World Report said last night. "We all have our mouths open."

Speaking was Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), No. 4 in the national news magazine's ninth annual survey to find out who are the most influential Americans today. At the publication's first party to celebrate its findings, Baker--to no one's surprise--was also one of the funniest Americans present.

"On the average we're 5 feet, 10 inches tall, taking into account the fact that Paul Volcker is 6-7," Baker told the select crowd of honorees, U.S. News staffers, guests from Capitol Hill and other media as they munched crab legs and tiny rounds of steak tartare at the Four Seasons Hotel. "We were discussing interest rates one day and I said, 'Paul, it may be'--and I looked him square in the bellybutton--'that to a man of your height, 16 percent may not seem so high.' "

To Marvin L. Stone, editor of U.S. News, the survey results held some surprises. "With all the criticism we hear from our readers about Washington and the federal government, we expected different results," said Stone. "But the message in this survey was clear: Americans are still looking to Washington for leadership."

So of the Big 10 selected by 1,548 persons in 30 fields, the half showing up to take their kudos in person last night were Howard Baker; Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, No. 2; White House Chief of Staff James Baker, No. 7; Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, No. 8, and Budget Director David Stockman, No. 9.

Absent were President Reagan, No. 1 ("the president is always No. 1 in this survey," said Stone); Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, No. 3; Presidential Counselor Edwin Meese III, No. 5; House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., No. 6, and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, No. 10.

Stone called Volcker "the strongest second-place finisher we've had in this poll since Henry Kissinger served Richard Nixon." But Volcker didn't appear to be deluded by his national standing.

"This shouldn't happen to a nice quiet agency like the Federal Reserve," he said. "It just shows what a 16 percent interest rate will do for you . . . I think I even know what these polls all mean, but I look forward to the day when there are 2 percent interest rates and I'll be in 16th place."

Other responses:

Stockman--"There has to be some rough justice in the selections this year. I noted Cap Weinberger came out slightly in front of me in the rating No. 8 and Donald Regan, No. 12, slightly behind. And that sort of expresses my essential plight. Defense running ahead and revenue's running behind."

Weinberger--"The thing I always admired about U.S. News and World Report was they let you correct the proofs of their interview with you. It was based on a very sound view that what they wanted to hear was your views, not theirs."

James Baker--"I'm delighted to have come in seventh in this survey because seventh is important in shooting craps. And that's what you spend a lot of time doing in the White House--shooting craps."