CHICAGO -- "They thought I would go without a fight," Rep. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.) said, stabbing his fork into the fried calamari ringlets on his plate. "Well, they don't know Frank Annunzio."

It has been 26 years since the Democratic organization of the late Richard J. Daley first offered Annunzio a seat in the House of Representatives, replacing an incumbent whose alleged ties to organized crime had become too well-publicized to ignore. It has been 18 years since redistricting caused the onetime United Steelworkers of America operative to have his first and only real election race.

His 11th District -- a mixture of ethnic groups spilling over from Chicago's northwest side into the Cook County suburbs -- has been won by Republican presidential candidates five straight times. At 75, Annunzio has gained influence on Capitol Hill as chairman of the House Administration Committee (which sets committee budgets and distributes other perks to House members) and as the No. 2 Democrat on the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee. But unlike his Chicago neighbor, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), Annunzio never has lifted himself out of the anonymity of the mass of House members ignored by TV and quote-hunting reporters.

To Edward J. Rollins, the veteran political operative who became co-chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee last year with the avowed goal of ending House Democratic majorities by 1992, all that made Annunzio worth targeting, despite his record of 2-to-1 reelection victories. Rollins recruited an ambitious challenger, state Sen. Walter Dudycz (R), who had established himself as a populist conservative who could beat entrenched Democrats. A leader in the fight against taxes in Springfield, Dudycz had further endeared himself to the fiercely patriotic and culturally conservative voters who dominate the district by personally "rescuing" the American flag from the ground at a controversial student exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.

What made it all the more attractive was that Annunzio had longstanding personal and political links to the savings and loan industry, the new bad boys of American politics. Washington talk rated Annunzio one of the four or five most threatened incumbents.

Well, it hasn't worked out quite the way the script seemed to dictate. Annunzio is far from a cinch, but so far, he is proving much tougher to dislodge than the Republicans had figured.

Turn on a radio station here these days and you're likely to hear a tongue-tripping ad claiming that "double-dipping Dudycz . . . takes our taxes for a job he doesn't do." Like many legislators in both parties, the former police officer is on a second political payroll, in his case, that of Cook County Sheriff Jim O'Grady.

The Annunzio ad repeats a charge made by a Chicago television station that Dudycz collected county pay for 87 days when records indicate he was in the legislature in Springfield. He says the records are faulty and there is no overlap. "They're spending $30,000 on that double-dipper Dudycz ad," he said with evident bitterness. "Real cute. They'll try to bring up anything and everything from the past," adding in the next breath that "Annunzio's first A.A. {administrative assistant} was Sam Giancana's son-in-law." Giancana was a celebrated Chicago rackets figure.

The ad and the slick Annunzio brochures are the product of a team of consultants with presidential and senatorial campaign experience hired a few months back to gear up a campaign for a man with negligible experience in the modern world of polling, direct mail, radio and TV spots.

The positive side of the message -- hammered home a dozen ways -- is that Annunzio has been a battler for the aged (the district has by far the highest median age in Illinois), the workers and consumers. An award from the Consumer Federation of America is given bravura treatment.

Annunzio still is more comfortable with the old ways, hugging union stewards and senior citizens at a Columbus Day event and telling a reporter, "Our ward organizations in the 11th are good; not 100 percent like they were in Daley's time, but 60 percent; and those 10 wards will deliver me in good shape."

But he also understood he had to raise more money than in the past -- $475,000 so far this year, compared to $260,000 in the last election. "I got the business PACs, the labor PACs, I pulled out all the stops," he said. "If I didn't win, I'd kick myself in the ass."

By comparison, Dudycz has stretched to raise $222,000, even with the White House steering contributions from friends of President Bush who share his resentment of Annunzio's attacks on Neil Bush's role in the Silverado S&L case. National and state GOP campaign groups prepared and paid for two fliers distributed last weekend, both slamming Annunzio's savings and loan ties.

"The Story of a Congressman Who Has Gone Wrong" cites published reports about Annunzio's campaign contributions from Charles H. Keating Jr. and other savings and loan executives, junkets his top aide took at industry expense and the jobs his two sons-in-law held in the industry.

The heavy-handed attack and counterattack orchestrated by the consultants seemingly leave both candidates bemused.

"The S&L scandal is a big item nationally," Dudycz says, "but it's just beginning to be a local issue." He has decided to forgo a closing ad blitz and put the money instead into phone banks and grass-roots organizing, which won his previous upset races.

Annunzio, for his part, is convinced "my constituents care about crime and Social Security and national health insurance. They don't ask about this {the S&L scandals}. They got their own problems."