Democratic Congressional candidate Jake Metcalfe, whose campaign had long struggled to get off the ground, said Wednesday he was dropping out of the race after his political advisor was linked to Web sites mocking another candidate.
Metcalfe said the flap over Internet sites targeting Ethan Berkowitz proved too much of a distraction. Berkowitz has been one of Metcalfe's two Democratic primary opponents in the race for Republican Don Young's U.S. House seat.
"I want to clarify, once and for all, I did not order or ask anyone to buy the sites," Metcalfe said. "I did not know until recently that anyone associated with my campaign had done so. It appears that a former campaign worker was involved in these acts, and I condemn them. The buck stops here, I take full responsibility."
There are at least five such sites. They're set up with variations on Berkowitz's name like "BerkowitzForCongress.com and EthanBerkowitz.blogspot.com. One purports to be the "Secret Diary of Ethan Berkowitz" but most just redirect users to other sites, including San Francisco gay and lesbian pages.
Berkowitz, the former Alaska state House minority leader, is originally from San Francisco.
The sites were obscure and little visited until the media took notice; they did not turn up in a recent Google search of "Ethan Berkowitz" without an effort to hunt them down. But, once they did become known, former Metcalfe campaign manager Dana Krawchuk stepped forward and pointed the finger.
Krawchuk said Bill Scannell, Metcalfe's political advisor, had revealed a plan for such Web site shenanigans during a strategy meeting last fall. Metcalfe was at the meeting, according to Krawchuk, although he says he doesn't recall it.
Krawchuk said Wednesday she didn't mean for this to end Metcalfe's campaign.
"I think it's unfortunate that he dropped out of the race. But if he felt it was affecting his campaign it was the right decision," said Krawchuk.
She said it might have been avoided if Metcalfe had given Scannell the boot earlier. Scannell resigned from the campaign last week, saying he was "leaping on his sword" to help Metcalfe.
Scannell still denies any involvement in the sites. He found out about Metcalfe's decision to drop out of a race from a reporter on Wednesday afternoon.
"Wow," Scannell said. "It's sad, I think it's sad."
Metcalfe had tried to soldier on after Krawchuk went public last week, saying he was going to focus on the race and not talk about the Web sites any more.
But Metcalfe said Wednesday that turned out to be impossible. He said he couldn't campaign effectively because the issue wasn't going away. Alaska Democrats need to move on and focus on beating Don Young in November, he said.
"This is one of the hardest decisions I've made, and I don't take it lightly," said Metcalfe.
Metcalfe had problems long before the Web site flap. His campaign had difficulty raising money and burned through what it did have, ending the first three months of this year with just $21,000 in campaign cash. Democratic opponent Diane Benson had more than twice as much and Berkowitz hauled in $287,000 from his backers.
Metcalfe was ranked last among the three Democrats in polls and was frustrated at often finding himself mistaken for U.S. Senate candidate Ray Metcalfe.
Metcalfe's campaign said it might not even have any money left at this point; his campaign treasurer was researching what could be done with any leftover funds.
Jim Lottsfeldt, a friend of Metcalfe's, said Metcalfe was disappointed for those who supported him. He really wanted to be a Congressman, Lottsfeldt said.
"I just looked him in the eye and I think he really feels bad," Lottsfeldt said.
Metcalfe said he called Berkowitz on Wednesday to apologize for any harm.
Berkowitz said it closes a chapter in what's going to be a long campaign season.
"And reminds us we ought to avoid this kind of politics and talk about where we are heading and how we are going to get there," Berkowitz said.
By SEAN COCKERHAM