Meg Whitman loses ground in polls as Nicky Diaz controversy drags on

Poll results show Meg Whitman falling slightly behind Jerry Brown in the days following a media blitz about Whitman previously employing Nicky Diaz, an illegal immigrant.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman (l.) shakes hands with Maria Elena Salinas before the start of a debate with Democrat Jerry Brown (c.) on Saturday in Fresno, Calif.

New polls show that Meg Whitman is losing ground in the California gubernatorial race, raising questions about how her previous employment of Nicky Diaz Santillan, an illegal immigrant, as a housekeeper might be affecting the race.

Polls taken after the housekeeper story broke last week show the Republican Ms. Whitman falling behind Democrat Jerry Brown by a few percentage points. An automated poll from SurveyUSA released Monday has Mr. Brown ahead 47 to 43 percent, for instance. A Rasmussen Reports update has a slightly larger gap, with Brown up 49 to 44 percent.

Given a margin of error of 3 percentage points or so, the California contest could still be razor-edge close. But the latest surveys are significant because from late August through early September, a number of polls had showed Whitman even with Brown, or maintaining a slight lead. The new numbers, though, have caused Rasmussen to move the race from the “toss-up” column in its gubernatorial race chart, to “leans Democratic.”

And new developments in the housekeeper case are keeping it in the news, preventing Whitman from moving on to other things, at least in the general media. On Tuesday, the housekeeper in question, Ms. Santillan, read a statement to the media in which she said she was coming forward now because it is not fair that illegal immigrants work hard and “then get thrown away like garbage.”

“Meg Whitman, don’t say I was part of your family, because you never treated me like I was,” said Santillan in her statement. She did not take questions from reporters.

Whitman has heatedly denied knowing that Santillan was in the country illegally – until the moment in 2009 when Santillan told her that was the case. Whitman fired the housekeeper shortly thereafter.

The GOP gubernatorial hopeful has also maintained that she treated Santillan well – paying the housekeeper $23 an hour for a job with flexible hours. Santillan gave the agency that referred her to Whitman falsified documents about her eligibility to work, Whitman says.

Whitman has accused Santillan and lawyer Gloria Allred of having connections to the Brown campaign. At a recent debate she lashed out at Brown on the issue. “You should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz on the altar of your political ambitions,” Whitman said to her opponent.

Ms. Allred, in turn, denies that Brown had anything to do with Santillan coming forward. “It is insulting to Nicky to suggest that she is ... anybody’s puppet,” said Allred on Tuesday.

Each day that Allred and Santillan command the headlines is a day Whitman loses to put out her preferred message about the need to focus on job creation in California. The former eBay CEO has her personal fortune to help bankroll paid ads, of course. But Brown’s campaign treasury is not exactly bare. His campaign said Tuesday that it has over $22 million cash on hand for the final push to November.

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