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      Gillibrand accuses Ford of 'pathetic' attacks

      Harold Ford Jr. / file photo

      U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand lashed out at Harold Ford Jr. on Tuesday, accusing him of childish and "pathetic" attacks as he considers whether to run against her in the Democratic primary.

      Gillibrand had harsh words for her potential opponent during a telephone interview with The Associated Press, a day after Ford called her a "parakeet" who takes instructions from the party leadership. It was one of Ford's many assaults on her independence in recent weeks.

      "I wouldn't accept that kind of name-calling from my 6-year-old, and I think it's a pathetic effort by someone who aspires to be a U.S. senator," Gillibrand said.

      Ford has been traveling the state and meeting with elected officials and potential supporters as he explores a possible run this fall.

      Gillibrand was appointed last year to the seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Ford represented a Tennessee district in the U.S. House for 10 years and moved to New York after losing the 2006 U.S. Senate race there.

      In an unusually sharp attack, Gillibrand said Tuesday that Ford was "unable to convince Tennessee voters to trust him or put their vote in him, and now he's moved to New York and thinks he should be senator."

      Ford spokesman Davidson Goldin said it makes sense that Gillibrand is "on the attack."

      "Her approval numbers are rock bottom, unemployment is rising and the economy around the state isn't improving on her watch," he said.

      A Marist College poll released Jan. 15 had Gillibrand beating Ford by double-digits in a primary matchup, but her approval rating among Democrats statewide was only 31 percent.

      Ford recently took a leave of absence from his job as a vice chairman at Bank of America Merrill Lynch to explore a New York campaign.

      He says he will decide next month whether to run and has been lobbing regular strikes on Gillibrand, seeking to cast her as the Washington insider afraid to assert herself.

      He often calls her a friend just before criticizing her, and on Tuesday, Gillibrand said she does not consider him the same. They were once "social acquaintances," she said.

      Gillibrand also said Ford's claim that he is a Washington outsider "is a fraud."

      She noted how he "grew up in Washington" while his father was in Congress, failed the bar exam and "walked into his father's congressional seat."