If Tuesday is like most election days in Montgomery County, candidates in races for Congress, the local school board and a host of other offices will be careful to stop at Rossmoor Boulevard, a short street off Georgia Avenue marked by an enormous bronze-colored globe.
The politicians will be courting votes among the 6,200 residents of Leisure World, and they know from experience that the visit will be worth their trouble. The residents of the planned retirement community traditionally have had the highest voter turnout in the county.
"After reaching this age and getting to the point we are in life, we like to state our opinions and try to make sure the person with support for our views is elected," said Margie Harris, 68, who moved from Alexandria 17 years ago into a two-bedroom cooperative apartment.
"People are fairly political here," said Mary Chenoweth, 72, who moved to Leisure World a decade ago from District Heights. "The graying of America is becoming more numerous. We realize that, as we are getting older, we have a lot of power to make things happen."
Voting is only one form of political expression for the residents of Leisure World, which also has its own League of Women Voters chapter, Democratic and Republican clubs, and a branch of Seniors Against Nuclear Arms, which has sent delegations to local peace rallies.
And politics are not the sole outlet for residents' energies. The community has 80 organizations, including a hiking group, an art league, an amateur radio club, several singing groups and a half-dozen bridge clubs.
"People come here expecting to be active," said Paul Schwartz, 72, a retired manager of the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, who is chairman of the Community Council, Leisure World's internal government.
It also is a place where people expect -- and receive -- a high level of service. The 580-acre community contains a round-the-clock security force, a medical center and private buses that make trips to nearby shopping centers. There is a travel agent, a restaurant, a golf course, a community newspaper and a Postal Service branch.
Leisure World is a Montgomery County fixture, and residents are preparing for a 25th anniversary celebration next year. But its origins are in California, where a developer in the 1960s founded several communities with the same name before branching out across the country.
Today, the Silver Spring community, on the east side of Georgia Avenue just south of Norbeck Road, also has counterparts in Arizona, Florida and New Jersey.
Residents are eager to explain what their community is not. "Sometimes it is perceived by outsiders as being in competition with or similar to a life-care facility," Schwartz said, referring to retirement centers that have graduated levels of help for residents with failing health.
"This is a wonderful retirement community, but it is not a nursing home," said Howard Lawson, 71, who relinquished a Fairfax City rambler six years ago for a two-bedroom condominium unit.
Still, Leisure World is the only place in Montgomery -- or anywhere in Maryland, for that matter -- with a minimum age requirement set by zoning law.
Under the county's zoning rules, all Leisure World residents must be at least 50. And under recent federal guidelines, four-fifths of the units must have at least one occupant who is 55 or older.
Typically, residents arrive when they are about 63, according to Robert Sullivan, the president and general manager of Leisure World of Maryland. He said the community's average age is 74, although there have been 100th birthday parties for a few longtime residents.
Three-fourths of Leisure World's population used to live elsewhere in the Washington metropolitan area, Sullivan said. "The vast majority of the sales come from people who know people here -- word of mouth." Those who arrive from out of town usually have children in the area.
In its early years, Leisure World attracted an economic cross-section, Sullivan said. Now, "the residents moving in are professionals, with the escalating prices in the community," he said.
Leisure World contains diverse housing types, architectural styles and prices, although it has no detached, single-family homes.
Its 20 separate housing corporations include an 898-unit high-rise cooperative, in which prices vary from $50,000 for a small efficiency to about $150,000 for a large, two-bedroom unit, Sullivan said.
The other corporations are condominiums, which include mid-rise and high-rise buildings, two-story town houses, and duplex and triplex units that look like short rows of attached ramblers. The most expensive homes include large high-rise units that sell for about $280,000 and three-bedroom town houses with two-car garages, whose price tags reach toward $250,000.
Monthly co-op and condominium fees vary from $150 to $450, Sullivan said. Construction at the complex is continuing, and the population is expected eventually to reach more than 9,000, he said.
That expansion is not entirely welcome among existing residents.
"Traffic has increased, and the parking lot gets filled up in a hurry," Chenoweth said. Added Lawson: "Some people say we are going to overwhelm the activities we have."
But community facilities have grown along with the population. Two years ago, Leisure World opened a second clubhouse, with an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley and a 325-seat auditorium.
Like many residents, Lawson said he is happy there. "Leisure World is a very beautiful community," said the retired federal government psychologist who lives with his wife, Ruth, in a sixth-floor condominium that overlooks a pond and the golf course.
Residents say they enjoy the freedom from yard work, snow-shoveling and home repairs, which are provided by the housing corporations and the community government. And they say the 24-hour security guards allow them to feel comfortable taking late-night walks and long vacations.
"In just one word, it's wonderful," said Harris, who moved into Leisure World as a bride to join her second husband there. Today, she is a widow who is executive secretary of the Community Council, an officer of the co-op's board of directors, a member of two choirs and "Fun and Fancy," a Leisure World theater group.
"I have not had time to sit and think about things as I might have," said Harris, who said she also swims frequently and takes regular walks. "I have found that my activities -- and the scope of my activities -- have really kept me younger, more active and more agile."
Two years ago, a Christmas present from her daughter, who lives in Laurel, reminded Harris what her life at Leisure World is like: "She gave me an answering machine, because she could never find me at home."