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Will Meg Whitman's illegal maid hurt her with California Latinos?

Latinos are 19 percent of California voters. The flap over Nicky Diaz Santillan, GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's former housekeeper, could make a difference in how they vote.

By Staff writer / October 2, 2010

California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman listens to a question from reporters during a news conference in Santa Monica, Calif., Thursday.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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It has not been a good week for Meg Whitman.

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The Republican candidate for governor of California is still having to answer questions about when she and her husband might have known that the Mexican housekeeper they hired for years was in the United States illegally.

That’s cost Whitman precious time when she’d rather be staying on message in her neck-and-neck race against California Attorney General and former governor Jerry Brown.

Although she’s never held public office, the former eBay CEO has shown herself to be a political fighter, and the billionaire businesswoman has the campaign war chest to hold her own between now and the election one month from now.

But can she do it with Latinos, who comprise 19 percent of California voters? Will the flap over Nicky Diaz Santillan, the housekeeper Whitman fired, make any difference with this important part of the electorate?

Saturday she’s getting the chance to find out as she and Brown debate in California’s central valley, home to much of the state’s Latino population. The debate will be aired on the Spanish-language Univision network.

RELATED: The political perils of employing illegal help: six memorable cases

A USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll last weekend showed Brown ahead of Whitman 55-35 percent among Latinos likely to vote.

Most Latinos traditionally vote for Democrats in California, so Whitman’s 35 percent is not bad – just short of what political analysts say she needs to beat Brown. (That’s far better than Carly Fiorina is doing against Barbara Boxer among Latinos in California’s US Senate race.) Whitman is particularly attractive to Latino business owners, and many Latino Californians vigorously oppose illegal immigration.

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