But the letter called into question when the couple knew there might be a problem. In a campaign call, Whitman strategist Rob Stutzman called the letter a "rather perfunctory piece of paperwork," and other campaign officials noted that it came to no conclusion about Diaz Santillan's legal status. But questions about erroneous Social Security numbers can be a tip-off to a residency issue.
Underscoring the stakes has been the Whitman campaign's swift response. Before Allred had spoken at her first news conference Wednesday, the Whitman forces released copies of Diaz Santillan's driver's license, Social Security card and federal tax documents, all papers that demonstrated their position that Diaz Santillan had duped them.
After Allred called a second news conference for midday Thursday, Whitman called one of her own for mid-morning, at which for 46 minutes she answered questions, repeated her version of events, denied that she had ever mistreated Diaz Santillan and said the woman was being manipulated by Democrats.
The response was in stark contrast to the campaign's behavior during a June controversy stemming from a report that Whitman had uttered an expletive and shoved an aide in a dispute at EBay. At that time, Whitman said through an aide that the confrontation was verbal. She disappeared from public view for a week before surfacing to acknowledge that the conflict was in fact physical.
Although the housekeeper controversy was dominating coverage of the governor's race Wednesday and Thursday — obliterating mention of Tuesday night's debate, for example — political veterans differed about its ultimate impact. Most suggested that Whitman needed to quickly turn the page.
"They've got to take the oxygen away from the fire in terms of the follow-up," said Republican strategist Ken Khachigian.
In the days before the dispute, Brown had the momentum in the race. And the days of discussion about Whitman's domestic help at minimum distracted from her electoral message that the state needs a fresh newcomer to force Sacramento out of its dysfunction.
"Their objective has to be making this a non-issue," said GOP consultant Adam Mendelsohn. "In these final weeks, every day the news stories that night are about the back and forth between Nicky and the Whitman family, that's a day they are losing talking about why people should elect her."
But he and others said the controversy could backfire to Whitman's benefit.
"Voters are very savvy and they are highly suspicious of these things happening a few weeks before an election," Mendelsohn said.
Jaime A. Regalado, the director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A., said Whitman may be hurt among Latino voters as well as independents if the matter dominates the campaign discussion.
Also contributing were Times staff writers Cathleen Decker, Michael J. Mishak and Maeve Reston.