''What the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are offering the voters is no big deal.'' So contends Gerard Baker, a Cedar Falls, Iowa, typewriter salesman who is running for president.
Mr. Baker is using the November ballot to make a point, not a bid for the White House. Iowa is the only state in which he is running.
At least 13 other ''presidential candidates'' are doing pretty much the same thing. None pose the kind of problem for the Democratic and Republican nominees that John Anderson did in 1980 or Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.
Four years ago a record 18 separate minority parties had presidential candidates in one or more states.
Under the banner of the Big Deal Party, Baker decries ''military waste'' and ''supply-side economics.'' His candidacy was made possible through some 1,000 voter signatures collected last summer ''mainly by students at Northern Iowa College.''
A few of the independent or third-party presidential candidates have more widespread support and are on more state ballots. But unlike four years ago, when former Congressman Anderson, running as an independent, and Libertarian Party aspirant Ed Clark were on every ballot across the nation, none has qualified in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
With a few ballot-access disputes still unresolved, the Libertarian Party and David Bergland, its 1984 presidential nominee, will be running in at least 38 states plus the nation's capital.
Stiffer candidate qualification requirements, including the need for substantially more voter signatures on nomination papers in several states, have made it more difficult for minority parties and independents.
In Indiana, the number of voters who must sign a presidential hopeful's nomination papers was more than quadrupled - from 8,500 to 35,000. Texas raised the signature minimum for minority candidates from 20,000 to 32,000 and prohibited those providing such support from voting in the state's Democratic or Republican presidential primaries.
Such moves ''are grossly unfair to voters, who should have a wide choice of candidates,'' asserts Honey Lanham, national campaign director for the Houston-based Libertarian Party. She and supporters of other minority party candidates - including Simon W. Gerson, campaign manager for American Communist Party presidential candidate Gus Hall - blame Democratic and Republican state lawmakers for ''teaming up to squeeze out the competition.''
Next to Libertarian Bergland, the minor-party presidential candidate on the most state ballots is Dennis Serette, listed on the ballot in 31 states and the District of Columbia, either independently or identified with the National Alliance Party under a variety of labels. Next come Mel Mason of the Socialist Workers Party, in 23 states and the District of Columbia; the American Communist Party and Mr. Hall in 22 states and the District of Columbia; Independent Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. in 18 states and the District of Columbia; and Citizens Party candidate Sonia Johnson in at least 17 states (under the banner of established local third parties in two states).
The other parties with presidential candidates include the Populist Party on the ballot in 14 states; the Workers World Party and its candidate Larry Holmes in nine states plus the District of Columbia; the American Party in six states; the Workers League Party in six states; and the Prohibition Party in five states.
At least six of the minority parties - Alliance, Communist, Populist, Socialist Workers, Workers World, and Workers League - have women vice-presidential candidates.
Although he has abandoned any thoughts of seeking the White House again and endorsed Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, former Republican Anderson, under his National Unity Party label, will be on the Kentucky ballot.
Voters in Arkansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington state, and Wisconsin will have the most choices - 10, including, of course, Mondale and Reagan. There will be nine presidential candidates on the ballots in Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee.
With litigation still pending , it appears that four states - Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Oregon - will have no third-party or independent presidential candidates on their ballots. Alaska, Arizona, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming will list one presidential candidate other than Mondale and Reagan on their ballots.
Particularly visible and audible among the third-party candidates are Sonia Johnson of the Citizens Party, a 48-year-old Virginia mother of two and an equal-rights-for-women activist, and David Bergland, a 49-year-old California lawyer whose Libertarian Party's 1980 presidential candidate finished fourth overall and second, behind Mr. Anderson, among independent and third-party hopefuls.
Ms. Johnson, whose unyielding push for the ERA led to her excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), is the only woman in more than a century nominated for president by any political party. In July, her White House candidacy was the first and only third-party effort to qualify for matching federal funds from the Federal Election Commission.
Making this hurdle ''was more important than getting on the ballot in all the states,'' declares Ms. Johnson. Although conceding she has no expectation of winning, she views her candidacy and those of other third-party aspirants as ''useful in getting across differing points of view - things the Republican and Democratic nominees are not talking about.''
To help promote world peace, she is calling for a ''nuclear weapons freeze'' and, as evidence of good faith, would initiate ''unilateral partial disarmament of about one-third of the US nuclear arsenal.''
On the domestic front, the Citizens Party candidate, who in Pennsylvania is running under the colors of the Consumers Party and in California with the backing of the Peace and Freedom Party, is calling for ''a progressive tax program - one in which large corporations are taxed more than people.'' Also on the Johnson agenda is ''a guaranteed annual income for every American.''
Running with Ms. Johnson is Richard Walton, a Rhode Island free-lance writer who three years ago helped found the Citizens Party.
Bergland, who won the Libertarian endorsement 13 months ago at his party's national convention, advocates turning public schools into private schools financed partly through a $1,500-per-pupil tax credit for parents or guardians. Government has no business doing a lot of the things it does, he holds. Abolition of social security and the return of American troops from all overseas assignments are among other Bergland goals. The Libertarian vice-presidential nominee is Jim Lewis, a Connecticut businessman.
The Populist Party, revived last February after being absent from the American poltical scene for nearly three-quarters of a century, has a once-familiar name on its presidential standard: Bob Richards, Olympic gold medalist as a pole vaulter in 1952 and '56, now a Texas businessman. The Populists want to wipe out the Federal Reserve System and ''shift setting of US monetary policies back to Congress where it belongs,'' says Eileen Shearer, national campaign coordinator. The party also has its sights on repeal of the federal personal income tax and a new US trade policy keyed to protecting domestic industries from imports.
In several states, including California and Rhode Island, the Populist ticket , which includes San Francisco talk-show hostess and author Maureen Kennedy Salaman, has been embraced by the more established American Independent Party. ''America First is our theme,'' emphasizes Mrs. Shearer.
Somewhat farther to the political right is the American Party, a conservative spinoff of the 1968 presidential campaign of Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace. The party's 1980 presidential candidate - Delmar Dennis, a book publisher from Pigeon Forge, Tenn. - is bent on making the federal government smaller. ''We believe there should be limitations on government, which has gotten too expensive and oversteps its bounds,'' Mr. Dennis asserts. His running mate is Traves Brownlee, a Californian and leader of Americans for Constitutional Taxation.
The 112-year-old Prohibition Party's 1984 presidential candidate, Earl F. Dodge of Colorado, emphasizes that his campaign thrust is more than anti-liquor. ''We stand for religious liberty and favor a strong human-life amendment to the Constitution,'' he states in condemning abortions, which he terms ''infanticide.''
Although the old-line Socialist Party of the late Norman Thomas appears to have faded from the presidential candidate scene, still very much on the ballot in at some states is the American Communist Party. Gus Hall, the group's national chairman and fourth-time presidential candidate, has California political science Prof. Angela Davis as his running mate. They are demanding a ''massive federal jobs program'' aimed at full employment, and jobless pay benefits for first-time job seekers. The Socialist Workers Party, founded in 1928, has picked Mel Mason, a one-time city councilor from Seaside, Calif., as its presidential candidate. He contends, ''There is no fundamental difference between the nominees of the two major parties.'' Andrea Gonzalez, his running mate in most states where the party is on the ballot, is a 33-year-old New Yorker with Puerto Rican roots. She is three years under the age set by the Constitution for serving as vice-president.
Similarly disregarding age requirements is the Workers World Party. Its presidential ticket is headed by 32-year-old Larry Holmes of New York and 29 -year-old Gloria LaEiva of California. Using the ''people before profit'' theme , they are seeking a ''socialist approach to jobs and health care for all.''
The Workers League and its candidate, Ed Winn of New York, support similar aims. The Alliance Party and its affiliates in various states, including the left-leaning Liberty Union Party in Vermont, is seeking to build on the ''Rainbow Coalition'' organized around the Rev. Jackson in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. ''We're left of center, but not socialist,'' explains party activist Kate Gardner. Alliance standard bearer Dennis Serrette is a union organizer from New Jersey. Nancy Ross, his ballot partner, is from New York.
Independent candidate Lyndon LaRouche, a native New Englander now residing in Virginia, is particularly out to build a new social and political order through elimination of multinational corporations. In the past he has campaigned under the label of the US Labor Party.