Republican Party leaders made it clear on Thursday that they stand behind congressional candidate Matthew A. Doheny in the wake of a report on a gossip site that the campaign called a “hit piece.”
On Wednesday night, the website Gawker.com posted pictures of Mr. Doheny, a Watertown businessman, appearing to kiss a woman who is not his fiancée while on a Republican Party retreat last week in Washington, D.C.
“Come on. Let’s get real here,” said Donald Lee, the Clinton County GOP chairman who has endorsed Mr. Doheny. “It sounds like somebody’s really stretching to make a story.”
The reaction Thursday to the photographs — Democrats gleefully forwarding news accounts to reporters, Republicans chastising those reporters for repeating what they considered spurious allegations — portend a brutal and spirited race leading to November for the north country’s congressional seat as Mr. Doheny seeks to unseat Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.
In a news release after Gawker’s report was posted, campaign spokesman Jude R. Seymour explained “that Doheny was out with a bunch of friends when Doheny and a friend embraced and a picture was taken.”
“These pictures demonstrate nothing more than two old friends joking around as they sat with other friends,” Mr. Seymour said.
One thing was clear about the grainy photographs: They won’t deter some Republican and Conservative leaders from supporting Mr. Doheny. No Conservative or Republican leaders contacted by the Times on Thursday hedged on their support for Mr. Doheny. Several did not respond to requests for comment.
And the nation’s top Republican offered a show of support on Thursday, too, according to the Doheny campaign: A political action committee for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would donate $5,000 to Mr. Doheny’s congressional effort, Mr. Seymour said.
“Nothing has changed our opinion of this race, Matt Doheny’s strength as a candidate or Bill Owens’s addiction to a big-government, tax-and-spend agenda,” said Nat Sillin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s House campaign arm.
Robert White, the Franklin County Conservative Party chairman, said the photograph reminded him of purported photos of Champ, the Lake Champlain monster.
“It looks like the first salvo in a very dirty campaign on the part of some of Mr. Owens’s supporters,” he said in an email message. “I expect it is coming from the (Democratic Rep.) Nancy Pelosi-type Washington crowd that need Mr. Owens’s reliable vote for higher taxes, Obamacare, suppression of non-favored religious groups, etc.”
The Doheny campaign similarly suggested “Democratic operatives” took the photographs.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which often sends people armed with cameras to record a candidate’s every word at public stump speeches, denied responsibility.
“The DCCC had nothing to do with Doheny cheating on his fiancée and did not take any photographs,” said spokesman Josh Schwerin in an email message.
The Doheny campaign insists that nothing inappropriate happened. Mary E. Reidy, a New York City attorney who is a native of Worcester, Mass., was quoted in the campaign’s news release Wednesday night.
“Matt and I are looking forward to being married this summer,” said Ms. Reidy, who will marry Mr. Doheny on June 30 in Alexandria Bay. “This is a very special time in our lives. I am deeply saddened at the state of journalism and politics that a so-called news source would run a picture so out of context.”