ON the hottest day of the summer, while his much younger opponent sprints along the parade route and gives small American flags to spectators, United States Rep. Frank Annunzio (D) rides calmly along. The race in Illinois's 11th District, a chunk of northwest and suburban Chicago, is supposed to be a barn-burner: Representative Annunzio's stiffest challenge in 14 years, some say.
But it does not feel that way today. This is a July Fourth of contentment (mostly), where local issues predominate and people, considering the upheavals in Eastern Europe and South Africa, offer quiet gratitude for life in the United States.
``It makes you think how lucky we are that, with all this strife that's going on, we really enjoy the freedoms that we have,'' says Ralph Sirianni, holding his three-year-old son, Joseph.
``They don't know how to own private property,'' adds Arden Schlegel before a picnic in Chicago's nearby Wildwood neighborhood. ``It makes you sit up and realize what we have here. Here, we can use our own initiative.''
And everyone in these comfortable, heavily ethnic communities is talking about property taxes.
The Schlegels have seen their property taxes triple in the past six years. Ben and Linda Ruf's property taxes have doubled in just two years. That is especially difficult for a family of six. Linda wants tuition tax credits for parochial schools. She and her husband support anti-abortion candidates.
What else is on voters' minds?
``Factory farming,'' says Chester Lunde, a former scoutmaster who has dressed up in complete uniform for the Wildwood picnic. Factory farming involves close confinement of farm animals, which some animal-rights groups believe is inhumane.
During the picnic, volunteers circulate a petition to restore the neighborhood's local library hours, which have been cut back.
According to Annunzio, who braves the near 100-degree heat in shirtsleeves, suspenders, and a tie, voters in the 11th District have an average age of more than 50. In addition to taxes, voters' concerns include Social Security cuts and long-term care, he says.
But if Independence Day is any indication, the district is getting rapidly younger. Strollers, bikes, and children are everywhere.
In other years, the youthful influx might have offered a good foothold for Annunzio's Republican opponent, state Sen. Walter Dudycz. But President Bush's switch on the tax issue has made at least one district newcomer reconsider his position.
``The only thing I am worried about is Bush and taxes,'' says Daniel McMahon, seated on a curb watching a parade with his son, Ryan, 3-1/2. ``I guess I would say I was more of a Republican, but I don't know anymore.''