It's an hour before the politicians are supposed to speak, and already the voters are starting to show up.

Some arrive unsteadily with canes and walkers, wearing neck braces and hearing aids. Others are spry, and carry books and newspapers as they move down the carpeted corridor to the cinder-block clubhouse auditorium.

George Fineberg, 69, a semi-retired government accountant and schoolteacher, props up his cane and grabs a good seat in the back. So do Frank Garner, 91, who once led his own orchestra, and his friend Anita Robinson, a retired secretary, who helps Garner into is seat, then folds his walker behind it.

No one need worry about attendance for a political speech here. And very few will show up late. This is Leisure World, the sprawling Silver Spring retirement community where folks come on time, and leave on time, and where, the politicians know, almost everyone votes.

Every election season, Leisure World, with its roughly 7,000 residents and about 6,000 registered voters, becomes what one local politician calls "the center of the universe."

Despite talk of carving it up, its voting precinct -- No. 1354 -- is still among the biggest in the state. And its rate of voter turnout -- regularly over 80 percent -- presents politicians with a potential jackpot of votes unlikely to be found in one spot elsewhere.

"I'm telling you," said state Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum (D), who lives in Leisure World, "as far as politics in Maryland is concerned, this precinct is the center of the universe. You can quote me.

"Anybody who's anybody spends the better part of their primary day and Election Day at Leisure World," he said.

Howard A. Denis, a Republican member of the Montgomery County Council, said: "It's high turnout. It's concentrated, and you have highly informed voters who are intensely interested. It draws the top-tier candidates, not only from the county but from the state."

It's simple, Fineberg said one day recently, as he waited in one of the pink upholstered auditorium seats for an appearance of Democratic congressional candidate Christopher Van Hollen Jr. and a handful of other office seekers.

"You have about 7,000 residents," he said. "They almost all go to vote on Election Day. Let's face it, if you have a block of 7,000 that you can count on to go to the polls on Election Day, if you're a politician that's a big deal."

The voters also don't have far to go to vote -- polling places are in the complex's clubhouses, which eliminates the transportation obstacle.

"We have a huge collection of voters, and we vote," said Lillis Caulton, who chairs the local Democratic precinct committee. "I don't know whether we vote because people are mostly retired. No. They're very civic, and very interested, and it's important, and it's kind of fun. It's sort of like a happening."

Fineberg noted that Leisure World residents tend to pay close attention to campaigns: "People read the newspaper and they watch television. Age is not a factor in mental acuity here. Whether it's unique, whether it's something in the water, or whatever, people on the whole seem to be relatively sharp."

Jim Sweet, 84, who was with his wife, Vivian, 80, said age may be a factor in why people vote. Senior citizens are "habitual voters," he said. "I don't know what's the matter with young people. They don't seem to be too much interested."

He said Leisure World is "full of people who grew up during the Depression. They all remember social issues, especially. There's a lot of military here, too, retired civil servants and military, some old New Dealers."

And their turnout record brings in the politicians. "Lieutenant governors, senators, all the members of the legislature, [County Executive Douglas M.] Duncan and the County Council, they all show up here," Sweet said. "Every single one of them: one, two, three, four. One week after another."

His wife said: "On Election Day, every last one of them's here."

Several weeks ago, Van Hollen, who is challenging incumbent Republican Constance A. Morella in the 8th Congressional District, made one of his 10 appearances at the complex. Most of the registered voters, according to county elections officials, are Democrats.

"We spend a lot of time at Leisure World because it is the largest voting precinct by far in this congressional district," he said.

"Not only that, you have a very active and engaged group of people who really care about issues. You don't see this many people turning out in other precincts on political issues."

Resident Sandy Rovner, 74, said many people in Leisure World vote with absentee ballots if they can't get around very well. "We have people ranging from 50 to almost 100," she said.

She said many residents are former government workers who were barred by law from campaigning during their careers, and now, in retirement, revel in politics. "Many of them are Washingtonians," she said. "And Washington is the political center of the planet."

Rovner, a retired journalist, joked about the gantlet that Leisure World voters pass on Election Day. As they walk to their clubhouse polling station, they travel along a sidewalk lined with electioneers handing out last-minute literature.

Denis, of the County Council, said that for a politician, the Leisure World crowd can be so thick that it's hard to get noticed. "You wonder if you're getting any mileage out of it because so many people are doing it," he said. "But it could be that you get demerits if you're not there."

During the recent primary election, Rovner said, someone toppled into some shrubbery along the phalanx of candidates and voters and stirred up a hornet's next. A real one. She said she was stung several times, as was at least one member of a candidate's family. "It was a completely nonpartisan stinging operation," she said.

Rovner said residents enjoy their political clout. "We're all aware of it," she said.

"They expect to be courted," Denis added. "They know how important they are."

Louise Armentrout, president of the Leisure World Democratic Club, said the community's political sensibilities span party lines.

"Any time we have a politician out here, regardless of the party, there's a lot of interest," she said. "We do cross parties as far as attending meetings, where someone of interest is the speaker."

Political gatherings are open to all, she said. "None of the meetings are closed."

Armentrout, 73, said there have been several attempts by the county elections board to divide the Leisure World precinct. All have been greeted with displeasure, she said.

"We vote in our own community in one location," Armentrout said, "and if you start trying to divide the community it's just very disturbing to the older people. They don't like change in any form."

Now, she said, "they've pretty much decided to leave us alone."

Armentrout said Leisure World residents, in general, prefer not to attend meetings at night, and they like gatherings to end on time. Before a recent political forum, she said, "We cautioned all the candidates: 'You have to watch the timekeeper.' "

At Leisure World, politicians were told, people "will get up and leave if you don't."

Resident Bea Fanshet walks through Leisure World, which comprises its own polling precinct of 7,000 registered voters, making it an attractive constituency for local, state and federal candidates.Leisure World's clubhouse is the site of many candidates' campaign stops, and the center's polls.Residents Selma and Irving Goldberg wave to Chris Van Hollen, 8th District candidate, during a campaign visit on Oct. 4. Below, the clubhouse is a valuable spot for campaign materials.