SHOULD IOWA have a veto over presidential candidates? That was the question raised by Albert Gore some time past 11 p.m. at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines a week ago Saturday -- a day that 10 of the nation's 12 presidential candidates spent in Iowa. "There is something wrong," he said, "with a nominating process that gives one state the loudest voice and then produces candidates that can't even carry that state." The test of a candidate, he said, "is not how many times you've met us, which of us got here first, came here most, spent the most money or bought the most tickets to this dinner. The test of a candidate is what he will do for the nation."

The reaction from the audience was not entirely friendly, as you might expect, and spin artists for Mr. Gore's rivals were quick to argue that he was just trying to discount Iowa because he has been trailing the rest of the field in the state.

There is something to be said for Iowa Democratic and Republican party caucus folk: they do listen earnestly and often to all these candidates, and they do approach their choice with some public-spiritedness. And there's something to be said in general for early contests in a few small states where candidates can meet actual voters and voters can judge the candidates up close.

But Sen. Gore obviously has a point. The justification for this kind of political enterprise is that voters in an early state are surrogates for the Democrats and Republicans in bigger and later-voting states, that they make pretty much the same judgments others would make if they got to see the candidates too. But sometimes they are not very good surrogates. Iowa Democrats, for example, seem far more dovish on foreign policy than most Democrats nationally; John Glenn's pollster in 1984 found that more than 40 percent of Democratic caucus attenders favored unilateral disarmament. Mr. Gore's argument that his five opponents are too dovish is not likely to be well received by this constituency. Yet the Democratic Leadership Council poll of southern Democrats who voted for Ronald Reagan, plus plenty of other political evidence, suggests that a candidate with his stance could run well on Super Tuesday in the South.

Mr. Gore is right, even if it also fits his interest, when he suggests it would be absurd to let one atypical state have a veto over the nominee -- just as it would be absurd to ignore such a state's result altogether. The candidates will keep crowding into Des Moines. But they and others, not least the dear old press, should try to remember that there is life outside Iowa, that Iowa is not al