By Paul A. Specht and Rashaan Ayesh

A Facebook post about Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assault in the early 1980s, has triggered a war of words between a local Republican leader and a Democratic candidate for Congress.

Lanny Lancaster, Cabarrus County GOP chairman, shared a photo allegedly of Ford that was originally posted by an account using the name Joseph Mannarino.

Lancaster shared the photo, which shows a young woman wearing braces and large glasses, adding the comments: "This is the alleged sexual assault victim. Wow."

On Tuesday, Democratic congressional candidate Frank McNeill included the post in an email newsletter as an example of a Republican "assault on the safety and dignity of American women." McNeill is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson in the 8th district, which runs from Fayetteville in southeastern North Carolina to the north Charlotte area.

"Now, Republican attacks on Dr. Blasey-Ford are coming from inside our own 8th District. Cabarrus County Republican Chair, Lanny Lancaster, posted his nastiness on Facebook just last night!" McNeill said in the newsletter. He then asked for donations. "Your contribution of $25 will help take our fight with anti-women incumbent Richard Hudson right back to Cabarrus County!"

Contacted by The News & Observer, Lancaster said in a phone interview that there's nothing inappropriate about his post.

"I didn't say anything. I just said this is her picture. Basically, the media is distorting the facts on this lady. Everything she's said is made up. She has no evidence whatsoever. I support that theory," Lancaster said.

Lancaster said he takes issue with how the news media is portraying Ford's early life.

"The media wants you to think she was a beautiful young lady who was on her way home from the tennis courts ... " Lancaster said. "I just wanted you to see the real person. I wanted people to see that this is really her."

The picture in the Facebook post that Lancaster shared is not of Ford. The photo has been circulating on the internet as a meme since as early as 2012.

Users on 4chan, an anonymous message board site known for circulating false information, claimed the photo shows Ford. Other photos of Ford from her teenage years have circulated, and the one Lancaster shared bears no resemblance.

That's because the photo isn't of Ford, a member of her legal team told The N&O in an email.

Lancaster is one of many people sharing the photo. It has been shared thousands of times on Facebook. WLOS in Asheville reports that Brandon Gosey, a member of the Rutherford County School Board, recently apologized after using the same photo to mock Ford.

When a reporter asked Lancaster if he believes a person's appearance plays a role in how likely someone is to be sexually harassed, Lancaster said no. And he said McNeill is "immature" for concerning himself with someone's personal Facebook page instead of focusing on job recruitment, immigration and other issues.

"Why would a potential congressman be concerned with what a Republican chairman thinks?" Lancaster said. "He appears to be the type of person that will be a troublemaker. To me, him looking at my Facebook page is childish on his behalf. Is he going to be a childish congressman?"

Lancaster's post was sent to the McNeill campaign by a concerned constituent, said Marc O'Hara, McNeill's campaign manager. McNeill didn't scan Lancaster's Facebook page, O'Hara said.

"This is a transparent attempt to shame a woman and objectify Dr. Blasey Ford again," O'Hara said. "As a father of a daughter and a grandfather of three, I honestly don't know how Mr. Lancaster will be able to look his daughter in the eye after this nonsense."

This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters' Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide.

(c)2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)