There are more women running for national office this year than ever before, and among the candidates, widows and causists for single-issues are on the wane, while nuts-and-bolts career politicians are on the rise.

The two major parties have nominated 54 women to run for either the House or Senate. Enough of them are expected to win to surpass the record set in 1961, when there were 18 women in the House and two in the Senate.

Three women running for the Senate are given a chance of winning.

"This is a new breed we're seeing," said Ranny Cooper of the Women's Campaign Fund. "And we're just beginning to reap the benefits of people coming up from our state and local farm system."

"Don't think I'm being a Pollyanna, but I think the people in my district couldn't care less whether I'm male or female, black or white, as long as I'm competent," said Lynn Martin, 41, an Illinois Republican running for the House seat of independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson.

Martin supports the Equal Rights Amendment and is pro-choice on abortion, notwithstanding her party's contrary platform on women's issues and the fact that her Rockford district was a losing battleground in the struggle to pass ERA in the Illinois legislature. (Her male opponent recently switched to a position opposing ERA.)

A fiscal conservative, she has received significant financial support from both the national Republican Party and business political groups -- and is one of just two Republicans to receive money from the National Committee for an Effective Congress. Analysts on both sides consider her skilled, hardworking -- and a likely winner.

Martin typifies the cream of the rising generation of female candidates who have worked to earn their spurs at the local and state level. One of four women in the Illinois Senate, she is a former state representative and a former member of the Winnebago County Board.

Lynn Cutler, running for an open House seat in Iowa, is another. For six years a member of the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors, and one who has taken strong stands on issues, her face has become familiar to TV news audiences in the district. She has spent a full year campaigning, routinely putting in 12- to 15-hour days.

Cutler's Republican opponent is spending far more money in the race, a problem especially acute among female candidates. Cutler has raised about $160,000, while her opponent has a budget of nearly $500,000. She attributes this only in part to the fact that she is a woman.

The dramatic growth of business political action committees (PAC's) will have an adverse effect on the candidacy of women, Cutler predicted. With certain exceptions, such as Martin's "these PAC's tend to automatically dismiss women as being antibusiness," she said. When she attended a cocktail party for potential corporate contributors and candidates on Capitol Hill here recently, she said, "I felt like the girl at rush in a sorority that had no intention of pledging her."

On the other hand, she noted that women have crucial new allies and tools they lacked a decade ago. Such organizations as the Women's Campaign Fund and the National Women's Education Fund now help teach campaign techniques, open contributors' doors and provide financial assistance.

"This is the first time we've had so many well-qualified women running, up and down the line," said Janyce Katz, a representative of the National Women's Political Caucus.

While the proportion of women holding national office remains small, she noted, the number of women holding statewide and local government positions has more than doubled since 1975, from 5,700 to 14,000, providing a skilled pool.

Republicans point out with a trace of irony that a majority of these women are Republicans. In 1978, for instance, 63 out of 66 women elected to their first term in state legislatures were Republicans. This is attributed not only to the GOP's greater ability to funnel money to them, but also to an active recruiting and training program for candidates and the general momentum of the party's recent resurgency.

One traditional route for a female until recently was to be appointed to fill a seat vacated by a man, often the woman's husband.

There is currently one woman in the Senate, Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.), and she is the first to serve there without initially being appointed or elected to fill the unexpired term of a man. Kassebaum has four years to go in her term.

Five women are running for the Senate. The three with a chance to win are Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.), running against incumbent Sen. Jacob Javits and the man who beat Javis in the Republican primary, Alfonse D'Amato; Paula Hawkins, a Florida Republican running against Democrat Bill Gunter, who last week defeated incumbent Sen. Richard Stone in a primary runoff election, and Mary Estill Buchanan, a Colorado Republican strongly challenging incumbent Sen. Gary Hart.

Mary Gojack, a Democrat, is considered an underdog in her fight against Republican Sen Paul Laxalt, as is Mary Louise Foust, a Kentucky Republican running against Democratic incumbent Sen. Wendell Ford.

In the House, 15 women incumbents are running for reelection. There are also 20 Republican women and 15 Democratic women challenging incumbents or running for open seats. Party analysts count at least three Democrats and five to seven Republicans as having a good chance to win.

In Denver, incumbent Rep. Patricia Schroeder faces a challenge from Republican Naomi Bradford in a tight race that runs the gamut on so-called women's issues.

Schroeder is a liberal who is pro-ERA, a pro-choice and pro-feminist Bradford, a member of Denver's Board of Education, is "pro-family," anti-feminist and conservative. She is receiving financial support from the Christian right.

Schroeder backers accuse Bradford, among other things, of running alternatively as an Indian or as a Hispanic to suit her own ends and of "screaming" at Schroeder in debates and accusing her of being '"anti-family," even though Schroeder is married and has two children and Bradford is divorced.

Bradford supporters on the other hand claim that Schroeder, whom they describe as the "darling of the wine and cheese crowd," has never experienced real poverty as Bradford has.One Republican said Schroeder is hurt this year by her inability to exploit the "sexist issue" against a male opponent.

Among the other interesting races involving women:

Democrat Norma Bork, a Sonoma County, Calif., supervisor who received 47 percent of the vote in 1978 when she ran as an unknown against the incumbent, is once again strongly challenging Rep. Don Clausen (R).

In southern California, Republican Bobbi Fiedler is given a good chance of beating Rep. James C. Corman (D) because of her antibusing stand. Fielder was elected to the Los Angeles School Board in 1977 and was co-founder of Bus Stop, an antibusing organization.

Democrat Jeanette Reibman, the only woman in the Pennsylvania Senate and a veteran of 24 years in public life, is at age 65 challenging young, first-term Republican Don Ritter.

In New Jersey, GOP Assembly Rep. Marie Muhler is challenging six-year incumbent James J. Howard, a Kennedy supporter who may be in trouble in his Asbury Park-Jersey Shore district. He is a top target of the Republican Party.

In Rhode Island, Claudine Schneider, a strong environmentalist, is the GOP challenger running for the second time against Democratic incumbent Edward Beard, a former housepainter who wears a paint brush in his lapel, founder of the now-defunct blue-collar caucus. Schneider nearly upset him in 1978, when she won 48 percent of the vote. This time she is considerably better funded by the Republicans' national operation.

The lessons learned this year are likely to make women even more formidable candidates in coming elections. Lynn Cutler, the Democratic candidate in Iowa, mused over a laundry list of things male politicians know that women have just begun to learn -- often quite simple things. "Keep card files," she said, files of names, addresses and phone numbers, the real secret to building a long-term political base.

"Most men in politics have huge Rolodexes, just huge. Some I know have three. I've got this terrible grubby little stack of business cards. But I'm converting. . . ."