Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a 36-year Republican senator facing a primary challenge in 2014, denied that he is out of touch with voters but acknowledged that he "doesn't know a lot about" the Tea Party.

"The Tea Party is something I don't really know a lot about," Cochran, who was elected senator in 1978 after six years in the House, told Mississippi News Now.

Cochran denied Tea Party rival Chris McDaniel's accusation that he's out of touch with conservatives. "I'm as in touch with the people of Mississippi as an elected official can be," he said.

McDaniel is viewed as a heavy underdog to Cochran, but the Senate Conservatives Fund is backing the upstart candidate.

"It's time for a new generation of leadership in the United States Senate," Matt Hoskins, executive director of the SCF super PAC, Senate Conservatives Action, said when they released an ad on McDaniel's behalf. "Chris McDaniel is a proven conservative leader who will stand up to the big spenders in both parties and help restore America's greatness."

Update: McDaniel spokesman Noel Fritsch emailed to point out that a December Human Events poll showing Cochran and McDaniel tied at 40 percent. It followed a November survey from Public Policy Polling showing Cochran with a 44-38 lead, largely because of his higher name identification.

"Among the 50 percent of primary voters who have heard of McDaniel, whether they like him or not, Cochran trails his challenger 60/29," PPP reported.

McDaniel and his allies at SCF and the Club for Growth PAC should be able to guarantee that the other 50 percent of primary voters hear about his challenge to Cochran, which is why National Journal's Julie Sobel described Cochran in December as the senator "most in danger of failing to earn renomination."

This story was published at 12:33 p.m. and updated at 5:48 p.m.