Let me introduce you to the (former California) Governor George Deukmejian Law of Politics: “Campaign as if you are running behind.”

George Deukmejian Campaigning

In 1982, the Duke won the closest election in California’s history by less than 100,000 votes; 49 percent-to-48 percent. Four years later, he was re-elected by the greatest margin in the blue state’s history, 61 percent-to-37 percent. And yet in both campaigns as the true underdog (1982) and as the prohibitive favorite (1986), he campaigned as if he was running behind.

From time-to-time I reflect upon his oft-repeated words.

In conducting our lives, should we adopt the attitude and humility of the underdog?

Should we assume absolutely nothing, knowing that change (including unpleasant change) is inevitable, continuing to battle against all reasonable odds?

Should be humble and confident (not a contradiction) in our endeavors, leaving arrogance, overconfidence and obnoxious cockiness to those who will be rudely surprised some inevitable bad day?

Didn’t one of the members of the “God Squad” (e.g., St. Luke) once write: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted?”

As we all know now, the punditocracy – those on the left and the few on the right — has weighed in big time about the great debate Wednesday night: Mitt Romney won and Barack Obama lost.

Romney as the clear underdog relished the opportunity to get past the noise of the negative ads and the pronouncements of political proctologists (words of the late Mike Royko). He directly took on the President of the United States and made his case to more than 50 million Americans.

Romney adopted the George Deukmejian Law of Politics.

For President Barack Obama he seemed to be nursing his lead, trying to run out the clock. As James Carville implored, it seemed that the president didn’t even want to be on the same stage with Romney. He reminded me of another president, George H.W. Bush, checking his watch during the middle of the debate (‘Don’t want to be late for dinner with Barbara…’).


When a team plays prevent defense with the defensive backs deployed near the goal posts, as complaining fans have noted, they are playing prevent victory. To use another sports metaphor, Romney was drafting behind Obama’s lead car Wednesday night waiting for the green flag to sling by his competitor.

The pressure very clearly was on Romney two nights ago. As the underdog, he focused on preparation, execution and passing the test. Mission accomplished. The pressure now reverts to Obama for the second presidential debate on Tuesday, October 16. Will Obama run as if he is running behind? He should, but will he? He needs to be prepared, be animated, but particularly in a town hall format, he needs to remain presidential…not aloof and dispassionate. And certainly not mean.

The majority of political opinion polls are starting to swing back in Romney’s direction. We will know by how much by this coming Sunday or Monday. He will receive an inevitable “bounce” from Wednesday’s night performance; nobody knows how much. He knows and his team must remember that they won the battle, but the war is still raging. The time between now and November 6 is a political lifetime. Volatility reigns supreme.

Just as Obama would be wise to run as if he is the underdog and with it, the champion of the little guy (Americans love underdogs, prompting many to storm the field or court after the huge upset), Romney needs to campaign as the humble underdog for the remainder of the campaign.

Incumbents are difficult to defeat (i.e., George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower) no matter the circumstances. The incumbent and his acolytes will seize upon any good news, even in the face of a desultory economic climate. Today’s improved unemployment rate, dipping from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, will be cheered in the president’s camp…as if we should assume a new norm of unemployment in the high single-digits.

There are many twists-and-turns in this race between now and judgment day. We have a plethora of talking heads and negative ads to endure. This too will pass. Both Romney and Obama would be wise to adopt the take-nothing-for granted underdog role. That’s good advice for the rest of us as well.