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Why is Cochran in trouble but Roberts isn’t?

Sen. Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi
Sen. Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi AP

At 76, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran appears to be in big political trouble. After failing to get 50 percent of the vote Tuesday night against a tea party challenger, he faces a run-off election later this month.

Cochran now ranks as the underdog in the race.

So why is Cochran in trouble while 78-year-old Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, who also faces a tea party challenger, is not?

Here are two big reasons. Cochran is an old-school pol who doesn’t often lead the charge against President Obama. He’s courtly, low-key. His opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is a firebrand who’s been compared to a Southern preacher.

That in-your-face approach appeals to conservative voters.

Cochran’s calling card has been decades spent bringing home the pork to his home state, which of course ranks as one of the nation’s poorest. But that style of politics also is out of step with the tea party focus on budget deficits and runaway federal spending.

Roberts doesn’t lead the fight against the Obama administration either. But he’s been consistently tough on the president. And while he’s brought home his share of pork, he isn’t in Cochran’s league.

Roberts votes so consistently conservative that his opponent, Milton Wolf, has struggled to make a case before the August primary.

Roberts and Cochran stand as two long-time pols at two very different places when it comes to their political standing.

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