By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If most California votersseem to have shrugged off the controversy over Republicangubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's illegal immigranthousekeeper, it may be because so many of the state's residentshave been in Whitman's shoes.
Mexico native Nicky Diaz surfaced last week to claim thatformer eBay chief Whitman and her husband, Dr. Griff Harsh,knowingly employed her illegally for nine years and treated herpoorly.
Whitman has fiercely denied the accusation, saying Diazlied to the couple about her immigration status and was beingmanipulated by high-profile attorney Gloria Allred, who hasbeen a friend and supporter of Democratic rival Jerry Brown.
Whitman's problem in some ways illustrates the complexitiesof the immigration issue in the United States and especiallyCalifornia, which shares a border with Mexico and is home tomore illegal immigrant workers than any other state.
"Everybody has a housekeeper that's illegal," Sue McDanel,a retired schoolteacher, told Reuters in dismissing the furor.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday found that 88percent of registered California voters had heard about theflap over Whitman's maid. But 72 percent said the informationwould make no difference in the way they plan to vote on Nov.2.
According to the most recent Pew Hispanic Center estimates,there are about 1.8 million illegal immigrants working inCalifornia, representing more than 9 percent of the state'slabor force.
The Whitman campaign has made public a U.S. Immigration andNaturalization Service form signed by Diaz at the time she washired in 2000 in which Diaz claims to be a lawful permanentU.S. resident, along with the Social Security card andCalifornia driver's license she supplied.
Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer for Pew, said 55 to 60percent of illegal immigrants are thought to be working in jobsthat require them to furnish such documents. Nationally, aquarter of house cleaners and grounds and maintenance workersare in the country illegally, Passel estimated.
'MY HOUSE AND MY STUFF'
McDanel, interviewed outside a Lowe's home improvementstore south of Los Angeles, said over 15 years she neverinquired about her housekeeper's immigration status.
"She's a good person and a good worker and I trust her withmy house and my stuff and everything," she said.
If the accusations by Allred and Diaz damage Whitman, itmay be among Hispanic voters, a typically Democraticconstituency that she has worked hard to win over.
California's largest public employees' union seized on theclaims by Diaz, funding a Spanish-language TV spot that refersto Whitman's calls for employer accountability and calls hertwo-faced.
"She is a hypocrite because I listened to her on the lastcampaign and she spoke poorly of Hispanics, and now she'schanged her politics," salesman Marvin Montero said in Spanishwhen he was interviewed by Reuters.
But Maria Capuhino, a 70-year-old retiree originally fromEl Salvador who was on her way to catch a bus in Los Angeles,said she supports Whitman rather than the former housekeeper.
"It's never good to mistreat the person who gave you work,"she said, speaking in Spanish.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angelesand Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by Will Dunham)