Politics was once a man's game, but a trip to Iowa these days tells a different story. By the time the long presidential campaign ends, 1984 may be remembered as the year women came into their own as political organizers and campaign leaders.

Here in Des Moines, in grubby offices with maps on the walls and coffee-stained styrofoam cups strewn about, women are taking command of the campaigns of the Democratic presidential aspirants for next winter's Iowa caucuses, the first real test on the 1984 presidential calendar.

Five Democratic candidates have put organizations in place in Iowa, and in four--former vice president Walter F. Mondale's is the lone exception--women are in leadership roles. But Mondale's deputy campaign manager for national field operations is Angenette Martin, and his campaign manager, Robert Beckel, said the campaign expects to soon hire a woman as director of field operations in Iowa, the second-ranking job.

Two of the Iowa presidential campaigns are headed by women, those of Sen. Alan Cranston (Calif.), whose Midwest coordinator (based in Iowa) is Monica McFadden, 31; and former Florida governor Reubin Askew, who has hired former Iowa Democratic Party staffer Maria Menne, 28, to run his operation.

The leadership of Ohio Sen. John Glenn's campaign in Iowa is shared by Maureen Roach, 25, and Don McDonough, 24. Colorado Sen. Gary Hart's Iowa campaign has been headed by Midwest coordinator Bill Romjue, who organized the state for President Carter in 1980. But Sharane Darlington, 35, recently came aboard as second-in-command, and Romjue's responsibilities are expected to extend to other states later in the campaign, leaving Darlington as the day-to-day manager in Iowa.

Together, these women of Iowa mark a significant departure in campaign politics.

"Women have been doing community organizing--the PTA, church groups, any number of things--for years," Darlington said. "Politics is a logical move, and politics is becoming accessible."

Iowa tells in microcosm just how accessible politics has become. Women have been active in grass-roots organizing in Iowa for some time, but only in recent years have they come to prominence in political campaigns.

One reason was the emergence of women candidates.

In 1978, Minnette Doderer ran for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and got women involved in her campaign. In 1980, Lynn Cutler ran for Congress and staffed her organization heavily with women. And last fall, Cutler and Roxanne Conlin, the Democratic candidate for governor, made women an integral part of their campaign organizations.

Although none of the three was elected, their campaigns opened up opportunities for women that had rarely existed in politics, and the women who gained experience there are now cashing in on those opportunities, both in presidential and in state politics.

Today, 31 of the 99 Democratic county chairmen in Iowa are women, according to Karen Kapler, executive director of the state party, who ran Cutler's campaign last fall. Women head the Democratic organization in eight of the 16 most populous counties.

That is a sharp change from the days when county chairmen were almost always men, and it is showing up in national politics, where women traditionally have been relegated to boiler room operations and jobs with little responsibility.

"Women have always done a large share of the work" in campaigns, said Ann Lewis, political director for the Democratic National Committee. "But the men were in the back room, deciding strategy."

Lewis reports that she is getting more calls than ever from campaigns asking for names of women who are political organizers. Her explanation?

"Politicians are smart," she says. "They're realistic, they're responsive. And they know how to count."

The "gender gap," along with the scrutiny that candidates receive over the treatment of women in their campaigns, are among reasons Democratic presidential aspirants are giving women more responsibilities this time.

"You need to court the women's vote, and one way to do that is to have women on your campaign staff," McFadden says.

The women running presidential campaigns in Iowa are experienced political operatives.

McFadden was deputy campaign manager for Roxanne Conlin last fall, ran four counties for Carter-Mondale in 1980 and earlier helped engineer a Democratic victory in city council elections in Davenport. Williams worked as finance chairman for Robert Kerrey's winning gubernatorial campaign in Nebraska in 1982 and earlier was a union organizer in California.

Menne spent five years at the Iowa Democratic party and was in charge of the caucuses in 1980. Roach, the youngest of the group, recently left the staff of Iowa Democratic Rep. Tom Harkin, where she was serving as his acting administrative assistant.

In past years, however, such experience counted for less. Lewis describes the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaign organizations in the early caucus and primary states as "overwhelmingly male." One visible exception was the draft-Kennedy movement in New Hampshire in 1980, spearheaded by Democratic activist Dudley Dudley. Likewise, the informal fraternity of political organizers around the country has included few women.

The 1984 campaign appears to be changing that situation. A Mondale campaign official said most of Mondale's congressional district coordinators in Iowa are likely to be women, and other campaigns appear to be following a similar inclination.

When the 1984 campaign is history, the women now running the Iowa campaigns may be remembered as the group that broke the male monopoly in presidential politics. That may turn out to be even more important than who wins the Iowa caucuses.