State Senator Thomas Kean, Jr. heads into next Tuesday as the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination for United States Senator over John Ginty, a banker from Ridgewood and retired U.S. Navy officer. Ginty entered the race late and has only about $20,000. His only exposure has been through true grass-roots contact with conservative activists, endorsements from pro-life groups, and the the relatively little small attention he’s received from some daily newspapers. Conservative challenges in New Jersey GOP primaries have often been more symbolic than anything else, although there have been some huge successes: conservatives upset a moderate-to-liberal Republican Governor in 1973 and U.S. Senator in 1978, and won the 2001 gubernatorial primary. There is some empirical evidence suggesting that the most conservative faction of the conservative wing of the New Jersey Republicans represents about 18% of the vote: in 1996, months after Bob Dole (not exactly a moderate) had already clinched the GOP presidential nomination, 18% of New Jersey’s GOP primary voters cast their ballots for either Pat Buchanan or Alan Keyes. Two years earlier, Brian Kennedy, a former State Senator from Monmouth County, ran to the right of pro-life Assembly Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian in the GOP U.S. Senate primary; with no money or organization support, he captured 33% of the vote. In 1984, conservative Robert Morris, who had sought to expose communists in the federal government as a McCarthy-era Senate staffer, on 40% of the vote in the GOP Senate primary against the establishment candidate, former Montclair Mayor Mary Mochary. (Morris had the organization line in only his home county, Ocean.) Way back in 1972, six years before Jeff Bell defeated Senator Clifford Case in the primary, James Walter Ralph, an unknown Bergen County physician, again with no money or organization support, captured 25% of the vote against Case. The question for Kean is not if he will win, but whether he will be embarassed by his margin of victory. He must deal with Republican primary voters who either don’t like him or did not like his father — although their is no guarantee that those voters will be suffiently motivated to show up at the polls. Several Republican strategists say that for Ginty’s symbolic campaign to be viewed as successful, he must get at least the 25% that Ralph did 34 years ago. But if Ginty can get to a third of the vote, as Kennedy in ’94, the results may be interpreted as a severe weakness for Kean among the traditional Republican base vote he’ll need to win a general election.