GARY FRANKS, the first black Republican in the House of Representatives in 56 years, is widely considered to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents in Congress.
But his chances of winning reelection are considerably brighter today than they were just a month ago - thanks to an independent candidate who may split the anti-incumbent vote in his district.
In 1990, Franks won a first term by a five-point margin in a diverse Connecticut district stretching from the blue-collar town of Waterbury to the wealthy suburbs in Fairfield County.
The freshman congressman is a staunch conservative who makes the case against affirmative action by citing his own life story. The son of an uneducated mill-worker, he grew up in a working-class section of Waterbury and went on to attend Yale University. Franks credits his rise to hard work and strong family values - not government handouts.
Despite his attractive life story, the former real estate developer concedes he faces a "tough" reelection campaign. Franks's first term has been marred by staff shake-ups in his congressional office and personal financial difficulties.
This year, two formidable Democratic candidates lined up to challenge him: probate Judge James Lawlor and state Rep. Lynn Taborsak. Judge Lawlor, a centrist candidate endorsed by the local Democratic Party, won the Sept. 15 primary with 51 percent of the vote.
But Ms. Taborsak refused to give in. She already had been endorsed by A Connecticut Party, Gov. Lowell Weicker's independent political organization. And in late September, she decided to stay in the race.
Taborsak, a plumber by profession, is an earthy liberal who promises to wage a hard-hitting campaign.
"The other two candidates offer little choice," she says. "They're both males, they're both from Waterbury. One is very conservative, the other is fairly conservative... It's tweedledee and tweedledum."
Taborsak has clearly shaken up the race - but what impact, if any, she will have is unclear.
"If it turns out that Tabersak and Lawlor spilt the Democratic vote, it's good news for Franks. But I'm not convinced it's going to happen," says Howard Reitman, a political scientist at the University of Connecticut.
"She may attract those who wouldn't have voted. She may even wind up winning."