New York Gov. David Paterson (D) on Wednesday said he backs Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) reelection bid this fall, but welcomed a primary challenge from former Rep. Harold Ford (D).

Paterson -- who appointed Gillibrand in early 2009 to fill out now-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's term -- said that Ford should run if he see himself as a worthy candidate. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Ford previously represented Tennessee in Congress but moved to New York City about three years ago.

“Now he lives in New York.  New York has had a tradition of allowing outer-staters to come out and represent us," Paterson told Don Imus on Fox Business Network. "If he thinks he is worthy of that then he should take on Senator Gillibrand in the primary.”

But Paterson said of the sitting senator "I picked Senator Gillibrand—I’d be supporting her."

Interest in Ford's potential candidacy was sparked by a New York Times report last week that said he is weighing a bid. This week, the centrist Ford wrote that he is "strongly considering" running against Gillibrand, who has suffered from poor polling numbers.

The White House and Democratic leaders, however, have offered their support to Gillibrand. Paterson now joins that list, but has offered more open support for an open primary than other Democratic leaders who would like to clear the field. 

Ford has suggested that Gillibrand is a rubber-stamp vote on the Democratic agenda and has stressed that he will be an independent vote.

Paterson rebuffed such claims Wednesday.

"She’s independent-minded," he said and acknowledged that the notion she is a party-line voter is "certainly a perception that her detractors have tried to create."