By James B. Kelleher
INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (Reuters) - The motto of this small town in north-central Iowa is a patriotic boast. "America's fame is in our name."
So when the time comes each year to celebrate the country's birthday, it's no surprise that Independence, Iowa, population 6,000, goes all out, with a parade down main street that lasts over an hour and draws folks from as far away as Dubuque, 65 miles to the east on U.S. Highway 20.
"The biggest thing in Independence is the Independence Day Parade,' said Richard Wearmouth, a 55-year-old pastor.
"It's our namesake."
On Monday, as residents marked the final Fourth of July before the 2012 national election campaign really heats up, partisan politics in Iowa appeared to take a back seat to old-fashioned Fourth of July traditions, with marching bands, flag-bedecked floats, and lots of patriotic red, white and blue clothing and bunting.
Supporters of Michele Bachmann, the conservative Minnesota Congresswoman who officially declared last month that she is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, drove a minivan in the parade.
But Bachmann, who was born down the road in Waterloo, Iowa, and has quickly advanced in Iowa polls in the GOP contest, was elsewhere and did not march here.
The only notable politician in attendance was Dan Rasmussen, a Republican who narrowly beat the Democratic incumbent in last fall's GOP surge in the midterm elections and now represents Independence in the state legislature.
A break from the politics that will soon consume this state, starting with next month's Ames straw poll and continuing through Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses next February, was alright with Sam Smock, a 57-year-old retiree.
Smock said he thinks the Fourth of July is best celebrated by emphasizing what unites the country rather than what divides it. The partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. has created "too much battling," he said.
"We need to think of us -- we the people," Smock said. "That's what the Fourth of July is all about. It isn't about parties."
Merlin Dodge, 55, wearing a baseball cap that read "Even Jesus Had a Few Fish Stories" looked up at the cloudless blue sky over Independence as the marchers gathered on Fourth Street and declared the day "perfect" for a parade.
"We've had it some years here where it's raining," he said. "We march anyhow."
After the parade, which even featured a flyover by two Iowa National Guard jets, residents walked over to a city park on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River, where vendors sold beer and plates of barbecue while local volunteers read the Declaration of Independence over a loudspeaker.
Later, the Independence Community Band performed a musical medley, including "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" and songs from "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Porgy and Bess."
The highlight of the celebration will be fireworks at 10 p.m. on Monday night in the town's Riverwalk Park.
Dodge said he planned to stake out a spot as close to the mortar racks full of the fireworks as possible to enjoy the show.
"Some people like to watch the fireworks from far away," he said. "That's not me. I need to feel them."
(Additional reporting by Jessica Rinaldi. Editing by Peter Bohan)