An article on Page A10 yesterday misspelled the name of Connecticut Democrat Christine Niedermeier. (Published 7/20/87)

STAMFORD, CONN. -- Surveying the urban panorama from atop his 22-story office tower, Frank Rich can lay some claim to being a founder of modern Stamford.

Across the street, draped across a maze of new office blocks, are large blue banners bearing the name, F.D. Rich -- and he certainly is. He built most of what he can see: glittering monuments to the free enterprise that has, over the past decade, transformed this Connecticut city.

"We are experiencing a time of unsurpassed prosperity," said the 63-year-old property developer, former marine, and now, Republican candidate for Congress. In Tuesday's special primary for Connecticut's fourth district, he is running for the seat left open by the death last month of Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.) who held the office for 16 years.

Rich maintains that the district, one of the most affluent in the country and one that routinely has sent a Republican to Washington, will do so again.

But many, including leading Connecticut Republicans, are not so sure. "McKinney was always voted back in because people liked him, not because the area is solid Republican," said R.D. Van Nostrand, a prominent local Republican and former State house speaker. "Now he has gone, {and} the Democrats have a real chance of taking the district."

Ironically, it is Fairfield County's affluence that may count against the Republicans in some voters' eyes. It has brought serious problems. Hundreds of major U.S. companies, escaping the high taxes and other problems of New York City, have relocated their corporate headquarters to the county over the past decade. Rich's development projects have housed many of them in Stamford.

But the influx of big-city executives has brought big-city prices, and now average and lower income employes cannot afford to live here. And a recent report on the county's future, drawn up by 800 private and public leaders, warned that the district's prosperity was bringing mounting transportation and social problems in its wake.

And in counterpoint to wealthy Fairfield is Bridgeport, just 20 minutes away, a blue-collar city with many of the urban problems of such industrial areas that tend to create a Democratic island in a sea of Republicans.

One of the three Democrats in next week's run-off is State Senator Margaret Morton, whose husband runs Morton's Mortuary in Bridgeport. She and Rich are politically the most diametrically opposed of the candidates in the race. If she can mobilize minority support and win the primary, Morton could become the first black to represent Connecticut in Congress.

"It is 97 years since Bridgeport sent a congressman to Washington and this time they are determined to see their interests represented," said Morton.

Her principal Democratic opponent is Christine Niedermeyer, who won the Democratic nomination in 1986 and made serious inroads on McKinney's support. But Niedermeyer's popularity within the party has suffered since then, and she has lost Paul Donnelly, the manager of her 1986 campaign, who has deserted to Morton. The third Democrat in the race is Michael Morgan, an unsuccessful congressional candidate in 1978.

The Republican front-runners are Rich, who has no previous political experience, and John Becker, a 67-year-old businessman active in the Republican Party. Christopher Shays, a liberal and a state representative, and John Metsopoulos, also a state representative, have so far failed to make a clear impact on the race.

The turnout is expected to be less than 25 percent and the shortness of the campaign makes name recognition a key. Said Donnelly of Morton's campaign, "There is only time for three things: making sure a lot of people know who you are, finding out who likes you, and making sure they come out to vote."

For Rich this means plowing his estimated $600,000 budget into TV advertising and billboards -- the banners on his Stamford buildings come free.

It also means getting down to the train stations early each morning to shake hands with commuters as they grab a doughnut before catching trains to Manhattan. Few of the commuters have time to stop, but the Rich name works with some. The doughnut salesman at the station in New Canaan is voting for him. "I figure I can trust him. He is so rich that he can't possibly be corrupted by wanting anything more," he said.