ANCHORAGE - Former Alaska Democratic Party Chairman Jake Metcalfe on Wednesday abruptly dropped out of the race for U.S. House, citing a distraction caused by fake Web sites that sought to trash a party rival.
Metcalfe said he learned that someone in his campaign was responsible for a scheme to redirect Internet users searching for Ethan Berkowitz to bogus sites intended to harm Berkowitz's candidacy.
"It appears that a former campaign worker was involved in these acts, and I condemn them," Metcalfe said. "The buck stops here. I take responsibility for these acts."
The disputed Web sites contained variations of Berkowitz's name but were not associated with Berkowitz's campaign. When users clicked on the Web sites, they were directed to pages that attempted to portray Berkowitz as a privileged California liberal or to gay cultural sites in San Francisco.
"I made a mistake by not taking these allegations more seriously from the beginning, and I called Ethan Berkowitz today to apologize to him for any harm this may have caused," Metcalfe said.
Berkowitz said Wednesday he appreciated hearing from Metcalfe.
"I think it's time to close a chapter and go back to what we should have been doing all along, which is talking about the direction the state is taking," he said.
Berkowitz refrained from publicly criticizing Metcalfe during the flap and instead said he would focus on campaign issues.
"You can lead by example during the campaign," he said. "I think the kind of politics that is petty and personal is outdated."
The Web site flap should not hurt his campaign, he said. Alaskans welcomed him when he moved to the state and he expects they will evaluate what he has to say and decide whether he should represent them.
"That's the way I've been treated in the 18 years I've been here," he said.
The source of the bogus Web sites remains unclear. Metcalfe's former campaign manager, Dana Krawchuk, claimed that his political adviser, Bill Scannell talked about such a scheme last year in front of her and Metcalfe.
Scannell has denied establishing the fake Webs sites but he resigned last week, saying the allegations were hurting Metcalfe.
Metcalfe said Wednesday he had not determined that Scannell was behind the ruse.
"I've talked to Bill. Bill denies it's him, but the evidence shows he may have had something to do with it," Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe said he regretted that Alaskans were distracted from the real task at hand, replacing Republican Don Young, who is seeking his 19th term while federal investigators look into his campaign finance practices.
"It's because we need to keep our eyes on the prize and it is because I care so deeply about the future of our state that I have decided to step aside," he said.
The matter has been a distraction from the issues in the race, Metcalfe said, including good jobs, health care for all, and care for veterans. Responding to the allegations has prevented Metcalfe from knocking on doors or calling donors for support.
"I haven't been able to campaign because of this issue," he said.
Metcalfe said he would not immediately endorse Berkowitz or the other Democrat in the race, Diane Benson, who faced Young in the 2006 general election and won 40 percent of the vote.
Metcalfe's wife, Moira, and other family members were at his side for the announcement. Metcalfe said they are expecting a daughter in a few months and that he looks forward to spending time with the new baby and two sons.