[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/15/art.gi.gillibrand.jpg caption="Poll: Gillibrand leads Ford Jr. in primary matchup."]
(CNN) - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York holds a double digit lead over a potential Democratic challenger, according to a new poll.
Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee this week announced he's considering a primary challenge to Gillibrand, a former congresswoman from upstate New York who was was named a year ago to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton, who stepped down from her Senate seat after being confirmed as secretary of state. Gillibrand is running this year to serve the final two years of Clinton's term. Ford, a former five-term congressman who narrowly lost a 2006 bid for the Senate in Tennessee, now lives in New York.
A Marist College poll released Friday indicates that Gillibrand leads Ford 43 to 24 percent in a hypothetical Democratic party primary match up, with 33 percent undecided.
"Gillibrand has an early lead, but she still has a lot of ground to cover," says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of Marist Institute for Public Opinion. "She's below 50 percent against Ford, and a third of Democrats is undecided. Her approval rating among Democrats statewide is only 31 percent."
Ford's move may anger the White House, which supports Gillibrand and has helped clear the field of any potential Democratic rivals. According to the poll, Democrats are split over whether President Barack Obama's backing would make them vote for a particular candidate.
Republicans are without a big name candidate at this time. Former New York City Mayor and 2008 GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has said no to a senate run, as has nine-term Rep. Peter King. Former New York State Gov. George Pataki appears non-committal about making a bid.
The Marist College poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday, with 855 registered New York State voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn