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In the bluest of states, a pair of Republican candidates face off in Senate primary

Shiva Ayyadurai of Belmont and Kevin O’Connor of Dover are competing for the attention of voters attuned to a different primary contest.

Senate Republican candidates Shiva Ayyadurai of Belmont (left) and Kevin O’Connor of Dover.
Senate Republican candidates Shiva Ayyadurai of Belmont (left) and Kevin O’Connor of Dover.

They’re flying far under the political radar in a pivotal election year, two Republicans with little name recognition who are crisscrossing one of the bluest states in the nation to connect with anyone who will listen before the Sept. 1 primary.

They want to be the next US senator from Massachusetts. But compared with the high-profile Democratic race between Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, their contest is the clear undercard, struggling to gain public attention in this strangest of election summers.

They are Shiva Ayyadurai of Belmont, a scientist and entrepreneur who was trounced by US Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018 when he ran as an independent, garnering less than 4 percent of the vote, and Kevin O’Connor of Dover, a political neophyte and longtime business lawyer.

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They are oil and water, one decidedly controversial and the other more traditional, presenting starkly different messages that highlight the stresses and divides within their changing party.

If much of the past is prologue, the victor will have nearly no chance in the general election. But that hasn’t stopped Ayyadurai and O’Connor from a whirlwind of retail politicking. Sometimes, that’s with 300 Trump supporters who swarmed Wilmington Common recently. Other times, it’s engaging less than a handful of people.

One recent day, O’Connor spent a half-hour pitching his candidacy to two people in Dracut. Neither of them had met O’Connor before, and one of them wondered whether the campaign had even begun.

“When are you running?” asked Devin Cordeiro, who recently purchased a lakeside club that has yet to open because of pandemic restrictions.

“I’m running right now,” said O’Connor, leaning against the bar and offering Cordeiro a bumper sticker.

“Who are you running against?” Cordeiro replied. The name didn’t register.

Later, Cordeiro said he had enjoyed meeting O’Connor despite what he considers a foregone conclusion.

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“You could help him all you want, but we live in liberal Massachusetts,” Cordeiro said. “If there’s ever a place where your vote doesn’t count, it’s here and California."

That same day, Ayyadurai campaigned through livestreamed social media, at one point explaining what a primary election is to viewers from as far away as Australia. His pitch is not subtle: In Ayyadurai’s view, the 2020 election “is the inflection point in human history. It is the inflection point between freedom and slavery.”

He believes that the state Republican and Democratic parties have colluded for years in a power-sharing conspiracy that allows the GOP to control the governor’s office and the Democrats to pull the levers in the Legislature.

Ayyadurai, who voted for President Trump in 2016, thinks Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease adviser, is a Deep State actor who should be fired and indicted. The call for mandatory masks, he warned, is a plot by a ruthless elite “to test people’s psychology to see how much they can get away with.”

Shiva Ayyadurai, running for the US Senate, held a No Forced Vaccinations rally on the Boston Common.
Shiva Ayyadurai, running for the US Senate, held a No Forced Vaccinations rally on the Boston Common.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

In a tweet last week, Ayyadurai chided a woman who had told the Democratic National Convention that her father, who died from COVID-19, had made the mistake of trusting Trump on the virus.

“Sorry for your loss,” Ayyadurai tweeted. “BUT, the REAL criminal is #Fauci who didn’t educate you that your father — overweight & over 60 — was in a high risk group & should’ve BOOSTED his IMMUNE SYSTEM w Vit. D3, A, C, Iodine & Zinc.

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#Fauci ‘lack of leadership’ NOT @realDonaldTrump is to blame,” he wrote.

This childhood immigrant from Mumbai, who received four degrees from MIT, created an e-mail system as a New Jersey teenager in the 1970s. He has filed multiple libel suits against people who have disputed that he invented e-mail as we know it. One case was dismissed by a trial court judge, another was settled, and a third is pending.

Ayyadurai, 56, did not speak with the Globe for this article. A spokesman said the newspaper had treated him unfairly in the past.

Ayyadurai’s campaign website and videos refer to his scientific background and problem-solving skills. Issues of interest include opposition to what he calls “forced vaccination,” big-tech “censorship” of free speech, and the environment.

For his opponent, Ayyadurai had only derision on social media, calling O’Connor the party’s “designated loser” in an outcome predetermined by the state’s power-brokers.

O’Connor, 58, is much more of a traditional New England Republican. Like Ayyadurai, O’Connor supports Trump, but parts of his platform differ significantly from the president’s agenda.

Unlike the president’s tendency toward isolationism, O’Connor said the United States needs to be a global leader.

“That means intervention to root out terrorism before it reaches our shores and defending human rights from authoritarians and failed, corrupt regimes,” O’Connor’s website states.

On the environment, O’Connor said, “we need to tackle climate change using technology and be the global leader in the green industry."

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O’Connor finds common ground with national Republicans on the broad issue of policing. He described steering money from police departments — “defunding,” in the current terminology — as dangerous and “an opportunistic effort to take advantage of really unfortunate circumstances.”

A father of four and graduate of Boston College Law School, O’Connor acknowledged that the Republican primary winner faces daunting challenges, and not only because Democrats have held a near-monopoly on the state’s two US Senate seats for more than 40 years.

Kevin O'Connor spoke at a recent rally on the Wilmington Town Common.
Kevin O'Connor spoke at a recent rally on the Wilmington Town Common.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Speaking to a socially distanced outdoor meeting of the Dracut Republican Town Committee, O’Connor complained that major media organizations have largely ignored him.

“There’s a bias against conservative, common-sense people,” O’Connor said.

Campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show a wide disparity in spending.

Through Aug. 12, Ayyadurai’s campaign had spent $1.4 million, including an infusion of $1.05 million of his own money. O’Connor, by contrast, had spent $281,193 and loaned his campaign $122,800.

Polling has been nonexistent, O’Connor said, although he added that unspecified “feedback mechanisms” have shown growing support for his candidacy. In an indication that the party is focused elsewhere, state GOP chairman Jim Lyons said he is concentrating on increasing the meager Republican presence in the Legislature.

But bringing Republicans together can be challenging.

There is the moderate wing headed by Governor Charlie Baker, whom Ayyadurai chided during his video for “loving masks” and working with Democrats. And there is the Trump faction, which Lyons rallied last week at Wilmington Common by railing against left-wing “lunatics” who he said dominate the party.

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About one-quarter of the Trump rally, which O’Connor addressed, was wearing masks. The mood had been boisterous, but festive, until a protester walked onto the speaking platform with a sign depicting a private piece of the male anatomy. The body part was labeled “Trump.”

The protester was surrounded by angry Trump supporters, had his sign smashed by one of them, and eventually was moved a short distance away by police who formed a barrier between him and the rally.

O’Connor stood to the side, quietly taking in the spectacle.

“This is really the first time I’ve encountered this,” he said to a reporter, shaking his head.

The next day, campaigning in the Merrimack Valley, O’Connor sounded like a marathoner determined to push through the pain.

“You learn as a trial lawyer that most people are fair-minded, and that if you present the case clearly, they get it,” O’Connor said. “You have to put one foot in front of the other. I sleep well at night.”


Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.