It was a packed house at California State University, Fresno, as the two faced questions about jobs, public education and the long-delayed state budget.
However, the controversy over Whitman's former housekeeper dominated the candidates' second debate.
In a heated exchange, Whitman said it is a lie and accused Brown of a orchestrating a smear campaign, while Brown fired back saying Whitman isn't fit to be governor.
"Jerry, you should be ashamed," Whitman said. "You and your surrogates put her deportation at risk. You put her out there, and you should be ashamed for sacrificing Nicky Diaz on the altar of your political ambitions."
"Don't run for governor if you can't stand up on your own two feet and say, 'Hey I made a mistake. I'm sorry, let's go on from here,'" Brown said. "You have blamed her, blamed me, blamed the left, blame the unions, but you don't take accountability."
The scandal broke Wednesday when Nicky Diaz Santillan and her attorney Gloria Allred, a longtime supporter of democratic candidates, went public.
Santillan worked as a housekeeper for Whitman for nearly a decade.
She claims the GOP gubernatorial candidate and her husband knew she was in the U.S. illegally.
Whitman said she had no idea, but after learning of Santillan's illegal status she fired her last year, but did not turn her in to immigration.
Asked if she did so because she anticipated it would be problematic for her campaign, Whitman said, "I didn't think it would be a problem."
Still, the campaign was prepared Tuesday when the story broke, immediately releasing documentation about it.
She called the controversy a "sideshow."
The event, sponsored by Univision, was the first California gubernatorial debate to be broadcast in Spanish.
Latino voters are crucial to claiming the office, especially for any Republican candidate, as Democrats hold a 13.4 percentage point edge among registered voters.
Whitman and Brown also offered solutions for the state budget and budget cuts.
"For every day that the legislature is late on that budget, they shouldn't be allowed to fundraise, they shouldn't be allowed to collect their salary and they shouldn't get their per diem," Whitman said. "There has to be some teeth in getting the Legislature to do the work of the people of California."
"Lead from the top, set an example," Brown said. "Cut my own budget 15 to 20 percent, challenge the Legislature to do the same, then go through every department as I've done before and I will cut and make the tough decisions."