A wicked early look at the 2018 U.S. Senate Elections

In two previous posts (here and here), I obliquely assessed the Democrats’ prospects for recapturing the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018.

I will now do the same for the U.S. Senate (Senate), which Republicans now control 52-48 (including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats).

2018_senate

**********r with me while I review some recent electoral history.

In 2006, the second midterm election of the George W. Bush Administration, Democrats won 53.2% of all Senate votes cast (compared to 41.8% for Republicans and 5.0% for Independent and third-party candidates), netting six seats in 2006 and a 51-49 majority. This majority rested in part on victories by Independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who subsequently caucused with the Democrats. Lieberman, seeking a 4th term, had lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, then run and won as an Independent. Sanders replaced retiring Independent Jim Jeffords, who had himself caucused with the Democrats.

Six years later, as President Barack Obama was winning reelection by 3.9 percentage points, Democrats won a nearly identical 53.4% of Senate votes (41.8% Republican, 4.8% Independent/third-party), adding two seats for a 55-45 majority. Lieberman did not run for reelection; Democrat Chris Murphy won the open Senate seat. Sanders sought and won reelection. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine also chose not to seek reelection, and Independent Angus King won the open seat, caucusing with the Democrats.

After a disastrous 2014 election (net loss of nine Senate seats, lost national Senate vote by 7.5 percentage points) and a mediocre 2016 election (net gain of two Senate seats, won by 10.2 percentage points[1]), Democrats currently hold 48 Senate seats (counting King and Sanders). Assuming there will still be a Republican Vice President, Democrats would need to net three Senate seats in the 2018 midterm elections to regain the majority.

Sounds easy right?

Well….no.

In fact, Democrats will be lucky not to suffer a net LOSS of seats.

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Of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2018, 20 are held by Democrats (plus King and Sanders) who first won election to a full term in either 2006 or 2012[2]. Five other Democrats who first won their Senate seat in 1992 or 2000 are also potentially up for reelection, making a total of 25 seats being defended by Democrats in 2018.By contrast, Republicans are only defending eight Senate seats in 2018.

   Table 1: U.S. Senate Seats up for Election in 2018

Current Senator State Run 2018? 3W-RDM 2012 Margin Ave. Pre-2012 Margin (# Races)
DEMOCRATS/INDEPENDENTS
Mazie Hirono HI Yes 34.3 25.2% N/A (0)
Bernie Sanders VT Yes 27.7 46.2% 33.1% (1)
Dianne Feinstein CA Yes 23.2 25.0% 15.5% (4)
Ben Cardin MD Yes 22.6 29.7% 10.0% (1)
Elizabeth Warren MA Yes 22.1 7.6% N/A (0)
Kirsten Gillibrand NY Yes 21.6 45.9% 27.8% (1)
Sheldon Whitehouse RI Yes 18.0 29.8% 7.0% (1)
Chris Murphy CT Yes 12.8 11.8% N/A (0)
Tom Carper DE ? 12.5 37.5% 25.7% (2)
Maria Cantwell WA Yes 12.1 20.9% 8.5% (2)
Bob Menendez NJ Yes 12.0 19.5% 9.0% (1)
Martin Heinrich NM Yes 6.5 5.7% N/A (0)
Angus King ME Yes 5.9 22.2% N/A (0)
Debbie Stabenow MI Yes 2.2 20.8% 8.6% (2)
Amy Klobuchar MN Yes 1.5 34.7% 20.1% (1)
Tim Kaine VA Yes 1.5 5.9% N/A (0)
Tammy Baldwin WI ? 0.7 5.6% N/A (0)
Bob Casey PA Yes -0.4 9.1% 17.4% (1)
Bill Nelson FL Yes -3.4 13.0% 13.5% (2)
Sherrod Brown OH Yes -5.8 6.0% 13.3% (1)
Claire McCaskill MO Yes -15.9 15.7% 2.3% (1)
Joe Donnelly IN Yes -16.3 5.7% N/A (0)
Jon Tester MT Yes -18.6 3.7% 0.9% (1)
Heidi Heitkamp ND Yes -29.4 0.9% N/A (0)
Joe Manchin WV Yes -35.5 24.1% 10.1% (1)
 REPUBLICANS
Dean Heller NV Yes 2.0 1.2% Appointed 2011
Jeff Flake AZ ? -9.7 3.0% N/A (0)
Ted Cruz TX Yes -15.3 15.8% N/A (0)
Roger Wicker MS Yes -18.5 16.6% 9.9% (1*)
Deb Fischer NE Yes -25.8 15.5% N/A (0)
Bob Corker TN Yes -25.8 34.5% 2.7% (1)
Orrin Hatch UT No -33.1 35.3% 27.8% (6)
John Barrasso WY Yes -45.7 54.0% 46.8% (1)

   * Wicker won a special election in 2010 to fill Republican Trent Lott’s seat after he was forced to resign.

   Barrasso won a special election in 2008 after the death of Republican Craig Thomas

In other words, in order for the Democrats to recapture the Senate in 2018, they would have to win three of eight currently Republican seats (37.5%) while not losing ANY of their 25 seats.

However, as shown in Table 1 (data from here, here and here), five Democrats up for reelection represent solidly Republican states, based upon my 3W-RDM  measure of how much more or less Democratic a state’s presidential vote has been than the national presidential vote over the last three elections (2008, 2012, 2016), weighted for recency. For example, Claire McCaskill will be defending her seat in Missouri, a state you would expect a Republican presidential candidate to win by 15.9 percentage points if the national presidential vote were dead even[3]

Table 1 also shows whether a Senator will seek reelection in 2018 (or has not made her/his intent clear), her/his 2012 margin of victory and her/his average margin of victory in any previous Senate elections.

In the rest of this post, I will briefly analyze all 33 Senate seats up for election in 2018, organized by party and from most to least vulnerable[4]. This analysis is based solely upon the partisan lean of the state and previous winning margins, ignoring possible partisan “waves” and opposition candidate quality (or lack thereof). I would observe, however, that in the last seven first midterm elections for a new Administration (dating back to 1970), the party holding the White House has lost an average of three Senate seats, with a median loss of two seats.

Republicans. Only one Republican seeking reelection in 2018 represents a Democratic-leaning state: Dean Heller of Nevada (+2.0). Nevada has been trending Democratic and Heller only won his 2012 election by 1.2 percentage points, following his 2011 appointment (after Republican Senator John Ensign resigned). Still, Heller held his seat even as Republicans were LOSING the national Senate vote by 11.6 percentage points, and while Obama won the state by 6.7 percentage points.

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake won his 2012 Senate election by just 3.0 percentage points (again, as Republicans were losing badly nationally), and while Arizona still leans Republican (-9.7), it too has been trending Democratic, along with the rest of the southwest.

If Heller and Flake both lose (and every Democrat and Independent wins), Democrats would still need to flip one more Republican seat to regain control of the Senate. Of the six remaining Republican seats, only two appear even remotely winnable for the Democrats: Texas (Ted Cruz) and Tennessee (Bob Corker).

Texas (-15.3) remains a solidly Republican state amid subtle signs of a pro-Democratic shift (see Arizona above), and Cruz won election in 2012 by nearly 16 percentage points. Nonetheless, early polling suggests that Cruz may be vulnerable. Tennessee is strongly Republican (-25.8), and Corker won his 2012 reelection by a resounding 34.5 percentage points. Corker, however, only won his 2006 race by 2.7 percentage points over Democrat Harold Ford, albeit in a year when Democrats dominated nearly everywhere else.

Finally, it is hard to see Democrats unseating incumbent Republican Senators in Mississippi (-18.5), Nebraska (-25.8) or Wyoming (-45.7!) or winning an open seat in Utah (-33.1), where seven-term veteran Orrin Hatch, currently third in the presidential line of succession (as president pro tempore of the Senate) is retiring.

Democrats. Five Democratic Senators appear to be especially vulnerable in 2018: McCaskill, Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Jon Tester (Montana), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia). The average pro-Republican lean of these states is 23.1 percentage points. Donnelly and Heitkamp won their 2012 Senate races by an average of just 3.3 percentage points, riding the strong Democratic wave that year[5]. The good news for McCaskill, Tester and Manchin, however, is that each won reelection in 2012 by a larger margin than in 2006 (McCaskill, Tester) or in 2010 (Manchin). Indeed, McCaskill and Manchin won reelection by 15.7 and 24.1 percentage points, respectively. And Montana’s recent special election for an at-large U.S. House seat, in which the margin increased from the previous election (2016) by 9.6 percentage points pro-Democratic, may be a good sign for Tester.

Five swing-state Democratic Senators would be vulnerable if the partisan winds shifted towards the Republicans, but would be favored to win reelection otherwise: Tim Kaine (Virginia), Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), Bill Nelson (Florida) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). Kaine, Clinton’s 2016 running mate, and Baldwin (who has not announced her 2018 plans) represent narrowly Democratic-leaning states (+1.5 and +0.7, respectively), although their 2012 margins were well below the 11.6 percentage points by which Democrats were winning nationally. As a native Pennsylvanian, I know the Casey name remains revered in the Keystone State. Still, Casey won reelection in 2012 by half the margin by which he unseated Republican Rick Santorum in 2006, and Pennsylvania (-0.4) has been trending Republican. Nelson has represented the Republican-leaning Florida (-3.4) since 2001, winning by an average of just over 13 percentage points. Brown, finally, represents Ohio, a state that has been trending sharply Republican (-5.8), and he only won reelection in 2012 by 6.0 percentage points, more than half the 13.3 percentage points by which he unseated Republican Mike DeWine in 2006. Brown is easily the most potentially vulnerable of these five Democratic Senators, meaning that if he wins reelection in 2018 and Democrats also win back the governor’s mansion in Ohio, he would vault to the top of every Democratic Vice Presidential (and maybe even Presidential) list for 2020.

Ten Democratic Senators and one Independent Senator (Sanders) up for reelection in 2018 represent states that are at least 12 percentage points more Democratic (at the presidential level) than the nation as a whole, and all but two of them Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Murphy won their 2012 races by at least 19.5 percentage points. Tom Carper of Delaware (+12.5) has not made his 2018 plans clear, but the Democrat would likely have an advantage. Bob Menendez of New Jersey has faced some ethical problems, which could be an issue.

Three additional Democrats (Martin Heinrich [New Mexico], Amy Klobuchar [Minnesota], Debbie Stabenow [Michigan]) and one Independent (King) represent Democratic-leaning states and/or won their 2012 elections by at least 20 percentage points. That makes 15 Democrat/Independent Senators (of 25) who appear at this point to be VERY strong favorites to win reelection (or for a Democrat to retain the seat).

Bottom line. The best case scenario for Democrats is that Democrats successfully defend all 25 seats currently held by Democrats and Independents, while defeating Heller, Flake and Cruz and/or Corker, for a net gain of 3-4 seats, recapturing the Senate. This is within the realm of possibility, but EXTREMELY unlikely.

The worst case scenario for Democrats is that Republicans successfully defend all eight seats, and not only do the five most vulnerable Democrats (McCaskill, Donnelly, Tester, Heitkamp, Manchin) lose, but as many as five of the next-most-vulnerable Democrats (Kaine, Baldwin [or whoever Democrats nominate, if she chooses not to run], Casey, Nelson, Brown) also lose, for a net loss of 5-10 seats. The Republicans need eight seats to gain a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats. This, too, is within the realm of possibility, but also (if slightly less so) extremely unlikely.

The most likely outcomes lie between a 1-2 seat gain (Democrats lose no more than one seat AND Heller and/or Flake lose) and a five seat loss (Republicans hold all eight of their seats AND McCaskill, Donnelly, Tester, Heitkamp, and Manchin all lose).

Here is the thing, though. Republicans will be defending 22 Senate seats in 2020, a presidential election year. So long as Democrats do no worse than a net loss of 1-2 seats, the likelihood of recapturing the Senate in 2020 would remain high—especially if they recapture the White House as well, requiring only 50 seats for a majority (as the new Democratic Vice President would break the tie).

Until next time…

[1] The margin drops to 5.9 percentage points if you exclude votes cast for Loretta Sanchez in California. Sanchez, a Democrat, had finished second to Democrat Kamala Harris in California’s all-candidate Senate primary on June 7, 2016.

[2] This includes Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to replace Democrat Hillary Clinton after she became Secretary of State, then won a special election in 2010 and the seat’s regular election in 2012. Manchin won a special election in 2010 to replace the late Robert Byrd, a Democrat, winning the regular election for that seat in 2012.

[3] As Harry Enten (and others) has observed, Senate elections are behaving more and more like Presidential elections, making the 3W-RDM a good proxy for the partisan lean of a state in Senate elections as well.

[4] I am also, for now, ignoring two potential “wild cards” in Alabama and Maine. Republican Luther Strange, the former Alabama state attorney general, was appointed to the seat held by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions after he resigned to become Attorney General. While Alabama (-28.4) is a strongly Republican state, the state Republican Party is reeling from the resignation of former governor Robert Bentley following a sex scandal as well as other scandals involving the former Speaker of the (state) House and the former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, both Republicans. The special election will be held later this year, and Republicans are already lining up to challenge Strange in the primary. Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins has floated the possibility of running for governor in 2018. Were she to win (a better-than-even chance, I think, should she run), she would appoint a Republican successor to her seat, and that person would face a special election no later than 2020. Appointed Senators face longer odds of winning election in their own right, which would make this a strong pickup opportunity for Democrats sometime after 2018.

[5] In Senate races, anyway, as Obama lost these five states in 2012 by an average of 19.8 percentage points!

Film Noir: A Personal Journey

A few years ago, I turned 48. On a lark, I decided to celebrate (in part) by ranking my favorite film noirs in a Facebook post.

When I tried to recall every film noir I had ever seen, however, I realized that I needed to compile a master list of film noirs (which does not actually exist). To do this, I turned to my burgeoning library of books on film noir, as well as my Noir City 12 program book and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).

You can surmise what happened next. I opened a new Microsoft Excel worksheet, starting entering movie titles from my 11 sources[1], and puzzled out a “film noir appreciation score” (or something—it was just called “SCORE” in the worksheet).

That is, I was trying to be “data-driven” about the process.

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I am often asked how I came to love film noir so much. So much that I spent a few years seeing each of the 50 films in “The Canon” in Ballinger and Graydon’s Rough Guide to Film Noir (2007) I had not yet seen. So much that I have celebrated my last six birthdays by programming a mini film noir festival for friends and family. So much that I have attended the last four Noir City film festivals in San Francisco (I live near Boston). So much that when I wrapped up my epidemiology doctorate soon after my 48th birthday, this is what replaced all of THOSE texts in my home office:

IMG_3104

And so much that I have spent the last two years…well, more on that later.

Still, when I am asked how I came to love film noir so much, I typically mumble, “I dunno.”

This post is an attempt to piece together my journey to becoming a film noir aficionado. Thank you, in advance, for indulging me.

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Just bear with me while I walk you through my SCORE construction process

Limiting myself to the “classic” era of film noir (roughly 1940-1959), but not to English-language films, I compiled a list of 184 titles appearing in at least one of my 11 sources.

For each film, I assigned values as follows:

  • Did I own it on VHS or DVD? If yes, then 1; if not, then 0
  • How many times had I seen the film? 1, 2, 3 or 4 (4=too many times to count)
  • How much did I like the film the last time I saw it? Integer value: 1 (blecch!) to 5 (damn, that was good!)
  • Would I see it again? This ranged from 0.1 (NEVER again) to 2.25 (yes, please, right now—particularly films I had seen only once, like Brighton Rock (Roy Boulting, 1947)

I then created a 0-100 scale using this formula[2]:

SCORE = (OWN*5 + TIMESSEEN*3 + LIKE*6.6) * SEEITAGAIN

Cognizant of the debate among film noir enthusiasts about which (or even whether) films directed by Alfred Hitchcock (11 of the 184 films) are film noir, I compromised by multiplying the SCORE of any Hitchcock film by 0.5. For example, Rebecca (1940) was knocked down from tied for 8th to 42nd.

In the Facebook post, I ranked my favorites from #24 (He Walked By Night [Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann, 1948)]) to #1 (The Maltese Falcon [John Huston, 1941]), with six “honorable mentions.” I chose 24 because it was half the 48 I was turning.

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The first detective fiction I ever read was almost certainly a collection of Encyclopedia Brown stories, somewhere around 2nd or 3rd grade. That was also around the time I discovered Charlie Chan, by way of the 1972 animated series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan.

One quiet Saturday afternoon a few years later, I watched my first 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan film (along with a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film—probably The Pearl of Death [Roy William Neill, 1944]). I quickly became hooked, as I describe here, here and here. As a result, by the time I graduated from high school, I was conversant with late 1930s/early 1940s black-and-white crime films (and countless reruns of Perry Mason). I had also seen a few neo-noir films (though I was unaware of the term), including the forgettable remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (Bob Rafelson, 1981) and the seminal Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981).

That fall, I enrolled at Yale University. For most of my time there, Yale had six film societies operating simultaneously, meaning that on any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, there were at least 12 films being screened from which to choose.

I saw A LOT of movies those four years, including some excellent black-and-white crime movies I would later learn were film noir (The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity [Billy Wilder, 1944], Murder, My Sweet [Edward Dymytrk, 1944], more than a few arguably-noir Hitchcock films, among others). I was drawn to these movies (and still am) for many reasons. One, I liked the well-told stories of crime and mystery. To be more precise, I liked the directness of the stories. These films were purely plot-based; they told interesting stories without gratuitous adornment (no CGI or over-the-top explosions here, Michael Bay). Two, these stories were human-scale, typically featuring a handful of characters in a relatively contained section of space-time. Third, they were gorgeous. At the time, I had no idea who John Alton or Burnett Guffey or Nicholas Musuraca or John F. Seitz were, and I had probably never heard the word “chiaroscuro” or anything about German Expressionism, but I knew that these movies were visually appealing to me in a way that no other films were.

Equally important were the two detective fiction courses I took, during which I read my first novels by Dashiell Hammett (Red Harvest), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) and Mickey Spillane (I, the Jury), introducing me to the hard-boiled writers crucial to the early development of film noir. (And as I write this, I recall reading Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock for my senior-year high-school English class).

For the first of those courses, I devoured two breathtaking photography books: Brassai’s The Secret Paris of the 30’s[3] and, especially, Weegee’s 1945 masterpiece Naked City[4]. The high-contrast black-and-white photography in both volumes, particularly in Naked City, had a profound impact on me—so much so that I asked for New York Noir: Crime Photos From the Daily News Archive for my birthday a few years ago.

I have one other salient memory from my sophomore year at Yale. For a film course assignment, one of my roommates[5] watched a scene[6] near the end of The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946) over and over again on our room’s big screen television (it’s a long story). That episode may well have been my introduction to the term “film noir.

After graduating from Yale, I spent a year in Washington, DC, where I happened upon reruns of the 1959-62 television series The Untouchables. While not noir[7] (if only because Eliot Ness, as portrayed by Robert Stack, was just too goshdarned upstanding to be a noir anti-hero), I was riveted by the rich black-and-white cinematography (in my memory, it is still the blackest black and the whitest white I have ever seen), as well as Walter Winchell’s portentous voiceover narration.

The pieces were falling into place.

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When I entered the film data into my original Excel worksheet, I also entered the director, year of release, primary country of production…and whether (“1” if yes, “0” if no) that film appeared in each source[8]. I could thus sum the 11 columns to distinguish the 26 films with 10 or 11 “points” (out of 12; n=26, including The Maltese Falcon, Murder, My Sweet, Double Indemnity, Out of the Past [Jacques Tourneur, 1947], Detour [Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945], D.O.A. [Rudoph Mate, 1950], Criss Cross [Robert Siodmak, 1949], Touch of Evil [Orson Welles, 1958], and The Big Heat [Fritz Lang, 1953]) from the 32 appearing on only 1 or 2 lists and from the 126 films somewhere in between.

A light began to flicker in my head…

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Throughout the 1990s, living just outside Boston, I read all of the Hammett and Chandler I could find. I also discovered the noir master himself, Cornell George Hopley Woolrich (sometimes known as William Irish), and I voraciously consumed all of his novels and short stories as well. By my count, 27 film noirs have been made from his novels and short stories, far more than from any other author (and that excludes Mrs. Winterbourne [Richard Benjamin], the 1996 Ricki Lake vehicle adapted from I Married a Dead Man [1948]).

One day, browsing in the film/TV section of a favorite local used book store, I happened upon my first critical study of film noir. It was probably Jon Tuska’s Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Cultural Perspective[9]. I remember reading the opening pages, in which the author dissected various scenes in Double Indemnity.

And I was riveted…though not enough to buy the book, which I have since regretted.

What I did not do, however, was watch a lot of film noir. At least, I did not watch a lot of “classic” film noir. Instead, I saw films like The Public Eye (Howard Franklin, 1992), Pulp Fiction and L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997) in the theater. I watched films like Hammett (Wim Wenders, 1982) and Se7en[10] (David Fincher, 1995) on television.

But once I moved back to Philadelphia in 2001, and I was living alone again, I began to watch classic film noirs in earnest. To the point where I began specifically looking in the “film noir” section of local video rental stores (remember those?) for these films.

Why then? I still don’t know, unless it was simply the culmination of 25 years of cinematic, cultural and literary exposure.

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The light that flickered in my head was an idea.

The idea was deceptively simple: start my original Excel worksheet from scratch, only this time I would enter EVERY film noir (not just ones I had seen) cited by an author in an official published LIST (be it explicit, like an encyclopedia or dictionary, or implicit, extracted from the texts of, for example, Hirsch, Muller and Naremore). From these LISTS (and resulting POINTS), I could rank all cited film noirs from the “universal” through the “questionable” through the “idiosyncratic.” I could aggregate LISTS and POINTS by director, cinematographer, year, country, studio and (ultimately) actors/actresses to rank their noir contributions.

I plan to publish articles based upon this research…you know, someday. Stay tuned.

In March 2015, I started the process by entering the 999 titles in Duncan and Miller’s Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites, followed by the 3,253 entries in John Grant’s A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide.[11] Since those tedious first few months, I have entered data from 40 additional sources.

Currently, the Excel workbook has 4,820 film noir titles (nearly half of which appear on only a single list), of which I have seen 558 (11.6%).

Interestingly, as you limit which of the 4,820 films should truly be considered noir (in epidemiologic terms, decreasing sensitivity [percent films labeled noir which are truly noir] while increasing specificity [percent films not labeled noir which truly are not noir]), the percentage of films I have seen increases:

Any film        558/4,820=11.6%

>2 LISTS         435/1,607=27.1%

>5 LISTS         359/881   =40.7%

>11 LISTS       269/463   =58.1%

>14 LISTS       234/341   =68.6%

>19 LISTS       149/171   =87.1%

I may not have seen every film noir every made, but I have seen the vast majority of films most widely considered noir[12].

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My love affair with film noir accelerated rapidly in 2003, when I bought a new DVD player: the first DVD I purchased was The Maltese Falcon. I now own upwards of 80 films, although such ownership is rendered somewhat moot by the increasing availability of film noirs on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon (and Xfinity OnDemand—thanks to Turner Classic Movies), as well as bowdlerized copies on YouTube.

Within a few years, I was buying my first film noir books: the Joan-Copjec-edited Shades of Noir: A Reader,[13] Arthur Lyons’ Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of FILM NOIR![14], Nicholas Christopher’s Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City[15], and Rough Guide.

You can see from the photo above where THAT has led.

On weekends, up until a few years ago, I would often rent three and four film noirs, then watch them voraciously (I still do this when I visit Martha’s Vineyard each  summer, where I can take advantage of the massive film noir selection at Island Rentals.

And I started listening to the DVD commentaries, particularly if they were by Eddie Muller, whose well-informed conversational style I admired. Listening to Muller’s commentaries led me to the Film Noir Foundation and, ultimately, Noir City.

This is essentially where I began this post, because I attended my first Noir City in January 2014, eight months before I wrote my 48th-birthday Facebook post.

I will conclude this post with an updated list[16] of my top 50 favorite film noirs, in more-or-less rank order (take the ordering with a box or two of salt). Given that I am agnostic as to when or where a film was released, or who directed it, I am presenting my top 50 film noirs from all eras (and with no “down-weight” to Hitchcock films). I am, however, limiting the list to films appearing on at least 3 LISTS (1/3 of the titles in the database).

Here, then, are my 50 favorite film noirs (classic-era films in bold, neo-noirs underlined):

  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. Out of the Past
  3. The Maltese Falcon
  4. Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944)
  5. Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock, 1940)[17]
  6. Hammett
  7. Call Northside 777 (Henry Hathaway, 1948)
  8. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
  9. Where the Sidewalk Ends (Preminger, 1950)
  10. The Dark Corner (Hathaway, 1946)
  11. The Big Clock (John Farrow, 1948)
  12. Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock, 1954)[18]
  13. The Public Eye
  14. Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944)
  15. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
  16. I Wake Up Screaming (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1941)
  17. Murder, My Sweet
  18. The Naked City
  19. Impact (Arthur Lubin, 1949)
  20. The Big Sleep
  21. D.O.A.
  22. Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945)
  23. Rebecca (Hitchcock, 1940)
  24. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Carl Reiner, 1982)
  25. The Killers (Siodmak, 1946)
  26. Kansas City Confidential (Phil Karlson, 1952)
  27. Too Late For Tears (Byron Haskin, 1949)
  28. He Walked By Night
  29. Cry of the City
  30. The Usual Suspects
  31. Black Widow (Nunnally Johnson, 1954)
  32. Double Indemnity
  33. The Street With No Name (William Keighley, 1948)
  34. Dead Again (Kenneth Branagh, 1991)
  35. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988)
  36. The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950)
  37. The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949)
  38. Fallen Angel (Preminger, 1945)
  39. Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955)
  40. Criss Cross (Siodmak, 1949)
  41. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrik, 1957)
  42. The Blue Gardenia (Fritz Lang, 1953)
  43. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
  44. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
  45. Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950)
  46. Detour
  47. Crime Wave (Andre de Toth, 1953)
  48. The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)
  49. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
  50. The Narrow Margin (Richard Fleischer, 1952)

Until next time…

[1] Ballinger, Alexander and Graydon, Danny. 2007. The Rough Guide to Film Noir. London, UK: Rough Guides, Ltd.; Christopher, Nicholas. 1997. Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City. New York, NY: The Free Press; Grant, John. 2006. Noir Movies. London, UK: Facts, Figures & Fun; Hirsch, Foster. 1981. The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. New York, NY: De Capo Press, Inc.; Hogan, David J. 2013. Film Noir FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Hollywood’s Golden Age of Dames, Detectives, and Danger. Milwaukee, WI: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books; http://www.imdb.com/search/title?at=0&genres=film_noir&sort=alpha&title_type=feature; Muller, Eddie. 1998. Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press; my personal copy of the Noir City 12 program book; Osteen, Mark. 2013. Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press; Osteen, Mark. 2013. Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press; Silver, Alain, Ward, Elizabeth, Ursini, James, Porfirio, Robert, eds. 2010. Film Noir: The Encyclopedia. 4th Edition. New York, NY: Overlook Duckworth; Silver, Alain, Ursini, James and Duncan, Paul (ed.). 2012. Film Noir. Koln, Germany: TASCHEN GmbH.

[2] Clearly, this was more scientific “veneer” than rigorous methodology.  I weighted ownership far too high and times seen not high enough. Still, proper adjustment of the subjective elements yielded values that seemed reasonable (achieving a loose form of “content” validity, sometimes called “face” validity).

[3] Translated from the French by Richard Miller. 1976. Pantheon Books: New York, NY.

[4] Uunabridged DaCapo Press reissue of the original volume published by Essential Press (New York, NY). The book inspired producer Mark Hellinger to helm the 1948 film noir The Naked City (Jules Dassin),

[5] Interestingly, that same roommate ended up playing a key role in the arguably neo-noir Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), even if Tarantino has said he does not make “neo-noir” films (quoted on pg.215 of the highly-recommended Naremore, James. 2008. More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts [Updated and Expanded Edition]. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press).

[6] The scene where Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) forces Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) out the door of Arthur Geiger’s home to be gunned down in the ambush meant to kill Marlowe.

[7] Although I would point to the Season 2 episode “The Purple Gang” (December 1, 1960), as one that closely resembles the look and mood of classic noir, particularly the final third of the episode, shot in a darkened warehouse lit primarily by weak overhead lights, flashlights and matches. It also features two noir veterans, actors Steve Cochran and Steven Geray…not to mention that Stack himself had starred in House of Bamboo (Samuel Fuller, 1955).

[8] If it was unclear whether the source considered a given film “noir,” I entered “0.25” or “0.5” in the column. I also entered “2” if the film appeared in the Rough Guide “Canon.”

[9] 1984. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT.

[10] I am NOT a fan of the movie, despite its high critical acclaim (8.6 IMDB score)—but that may because I watched it alone, at night, in the dark, having just watched Babe with my then-girlfriend. There are scenes in that movie that still give me the creeps.

[11] Duncan, Paul and Miller, Jurgen, eds. 2014. Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites. Koln, Germany: TASCHEN GmbH; Grant, John. 2013. A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide. Milwaukee, WI: Limelight Editions

[12] Here are the top 10 film noirs (all 20 or more LISTS) I have not yet seen: Where Danger Lives (John Farrow, 1950); Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954); The Unsuspected (Michael Curtiz, 1947); The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946); The Enforcer (Murder Inc.; Bretaigne Windust and Raoul Walsh, 1951); The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Felix E. Feist, 1947); Roadblock (Harold Daniels, 1951); The Locket (John Brahm, 1946); Conflict (Curtis Bernhardt, 1945); Scandal Sheet (The Dark Page; Phil Karlson, 1952)

[13] 1993. London, UK: Verso

[14] 2000. New York, NY: Da Capo Press

[15] 1997. New York, NY: The Free Press

[16] SCORE = (OWN + TIMESSEEN*5.8 + LIKE*4) * SEEITAGAIN…more or less…

[17] An arguable film noir selection, I grant. But it does appear on 4 LISTS with 5 POINTS, so…

[18] 6 LISTS, 6 POINTS

The AHCA vote likely increased Democrats’ chances of winning the U.S. House in 2018

Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, respectively, in 1959. As a result, 1962 was the first election year to reflect the current U.S. House of Representatives (House) configuration of 435 seats allocated across 50 states[1]. These were also the first House elections since John F. Kennedy won the presidency two years earlier. The rule of thumb is that the party of the president loses House seats in the first midterm (even-numbered years between presidential election years) elections following the first time that president is elected.

In 1962, the Democrats lost five seats, the Republicans won two seats, there was one new Independent, and two seats were eliminated (the previous two Houses had 437 seats in anticipation of Alaska and Hawaii seats and the post-1960 U.S. Census redistricting). To simplify matters, let’s call this a Democratic loss of two House seats.

**********

On May 3, 2017, the House voted 217-213 to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Of the 431 current House members, all 193 Democrats voted against the bill, as did 20 of the 238 Republicans, with one Republican (Dan Hewhouse of Washington’s 4th congressional district [WA-4]) not voting.

The AHCA was the third major attempt to overhaul the U.S. health care system in the last 25 years. On October 27, 1993, President Bill Clinton introduced his universal health care bill (designed in part by a task force led by First Lady Hillary Clinton) to Congress. After months of wrangling, it never came to a vote in either the House or the U.S. Senate (Senate), and the effort to pass the bill ended in late August 1994.

On September 9, 2009, President Barack Obama delivered a nationally-televised address to a joint session of Congress calling for Congress to pass health care reform, with the goal of universal coverage. Initial legislation passed the House on November 7, 2009 and the Senate on December 4, 2009. The Senate bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), was amended by the House to allow the Senate to pass it on a simple majority vote under a process called budget reconciliation[2]. Ultimately the amended ACA passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

Both of these months-long, highly-controversial efforts were undertaken by a newly-elected president in the two years prior to his first midterm elections.

Hold that thought.

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As noted earlier, it has been common for a president’s party to lose House seats in that president’s first midterm elections. There have been eight such elections since 1960 (I exclude 1966, since Lyndon Johnson won RE-election to the presidency in 1964, and 1974, since Gerald Ford had not been elected to the presidency):

Figure 1: Net House Seat Losses for a President in First-Term Midterm Elections, 1962-2010

Net House Seat Loss by President’s Party in First Midterm, 1962-2010

Starting in 1962, the president’s party has lost an average of 21.5 House seats (median loss=13.5 seats) in that president’s first midterm elections (Figure 1)[3]. However, the rate of first-midterm House seat loss has accelerated over time. A simple weighting scheme[4] increases the average to 27.4 House seats lost. The simple average over the last five qualifying midterm elections is 28.6 House seats lost (median=26), and over the last three is 36.3 House seats lost (median=54). Finally, a simple linear regression model “predicts” that the average House seat loss for Republicans in 2018 would be 45.9!

Clearly, history is not always predictive. The president’s party lost an average of 13.8 House seats in the four qualifying midterm elections from 1962-1982, yet President George H.W. Bush’s Republicans only lost 8 House seats in 1990, while President Bush was still receiving plaudits for the first Gulf War and the end of the Cold War. Similarly, the 1962-1994 average was 19.5 House seats lost, yet President George W. Bush’s Republicans actually GAINED 8 House seats in 2002, in the first midterm elections following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Still, here is where the examples of 1994 and 2010 are instructive. As noted earlier, these were the first midterm elections following a newly-elected president, with majorities in both the House and Senate, attempting to overhaul the nation’s health care system; both overhaul attempts were highly controversial and extended over much of the president’s first two years in office.

Democrats lost an average of 58.5 House seats over those two elections, handing control of the House to Republicans on both occasions (in 1994, for the first time in 40 years!)[5].

Could the same thing happen to Republicans in 2018, following the AHCA vote in the House, and what appears likely to be as long a process as the previous two attempts to change the U.S. health care system? Analysts I respect are already speculating about the possibility, but just bear with me while I offer my own analysis.

**********

In the 2016 midterm elections, Republicans won 241 House seats and Democrats won 194 House seats, meaning that Democrats would have to gain 24 House seats to win a majority of House seats in 2018. I have already written about the challenge to such a takeover presented by the large majority of very safe seats held by both political parties. In that earlier post, I found only 48 seats (28 won by Republicans[6]) decided by less than 10 percentage points and/or the winning candidate won less than 55% of the total vote (“close”); there were only 23 districts won by a Republican House candidate AND by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In total, there are 41 House districts in either/both of these two “vulnerable” categories.

The easiest thing for Democrats would be to win 24 of these 41 House seats in 2018 (while losing none of their seats). And, in an intriguing sign of things to come, 15-term Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) announced that she would not seek reelection in 2018. In 2016, Ms. Clinton won her House district, and she won her House seat by “only” 9.8 percentage points. Democrats are now favored to win this seat in 2018.

There are other warning signs for Republicans as well. After Republican Mike Pompeo won his House seat (KS-4) in 2016 by 31.1 percentage points, Republican Ron Estes won a special election for that seat on April 11, 2017 by just 6.8 percentage points, a pro-Democratic shift of 24.3 percentage points. Republican Tom Price won his House seat (GA-6) in 2016 by 23.4 percentage points, but Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is essentially tied with Republican Karen Handel in advance of the June 20 runoff in the special election to fill that seat, a shift of 23.4 percentage points. A total of 93 Republicans won their House seats in 2016 by less than 23 percentage points; if Democrats won only one-third of these Republican seats in 2018, that would still be seven more than they need to recapture the House.

**********

It is remarkable political irony that the ACA is now more popular than ever. On April 1, 2010, just after the ACA was signed into law, 42.7% supported it and 50.0% opposed it. Seven years later, those numbers had reversed: 48.4% support and 41.9% opposition, a 13.8 percentage point marginal shift.

At the same time, the AHCA has been less popular than the ACA ever was. The public disapproves of Congress’ performance (62.9% disapprove, 17.2% approve) and of the way President Donald Trump has handled health care (51.3% disapprove, 37.7% approve).

Still, 217 of 238 House Republicans in a historically unpopular body, acting at the behest of an unpopular president, voted in favor of an unpopular bill whose purpose was to “repeal and replace” an increasingly-popular law.

This is exactly what the creation of very safe seats does to democracy—it creates a perverse incentive to be more afraid of primary challenges from party extremes than of the broader pool of general election voters.

Table 1: Distribution of House Votes for the AHCA on May 4, 2017 By Vulnerability of House Member

  Close, Clinton Won Close, Trump Won Not Close, Clinton Won Not Close, Trump Won TOTAL
No 5 1 4 10 20[7]
Yes 5 17 9 186 217
TOTAL 10 18 13 196 237
% No 50.0% 5.6% 30.8% 5.1% 8.4%
Ratio 9.80 1.09 6.03

Overall, according to Table 1, only 8.4% of Republican House members (excluding Newhouse’s non-vote) voted no on the AHCA, as did an even smaller 5.1% of the 196 Republicans from the safest districts (2016 House vote margin>10 percentage points and/or the winning percentage>55%[8]) AND Trump won the district). Surprisingly, only 1 Republican House member (5.6%) from a close district that Trump won (Brian Fitzpatrick [PA-8]) voted no on the AHCA, while the other 17 voted yes, implying they are more scared of Trump voters in those districts than of all other voters.

On the other hand, four Republican House members (30.8%) from districts that were not close, but which Clinton won—John Katko (NY-24), Ryan A. Costello (PA-6), Patrick Meehan (PA-7), Dave Reichert (WA-8)—voted no, while nine voted yes. And, of the 10 Republican House members whose 2016 election was close AND whose district was won by Clinton, half voted no (Mike Coffman [CO-6], Ros-Lehtinen, Leonard Lance [NJ-7], Will Hurd [TX-23], Barbara Comstock [VA-10]) and half voted yes.

Thus, compared to “safe” Republican House members, Republican House members from the least safe (close, Clinton) districts were 9.8 times more likely to vote no on the AHCA, while Republican House members from the not-close districts Clinton won were 6.0 times more likely to vote no.

Simply put, Republican House members from districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (regardless of how “close” their own 2016 election was) were 7.7 times more likely to vote no on the AHCA than Republican House members from districts won by Donald Trump.

But that still leaves 31 Republican House members from districts which were close in 2016 and/or Clinton won in 2016 who voted YES on the AHCA:

Close AND Clinton won (n=5)

Jeff Denham              CA-10

Steve Knight             CA-25

Darrell Issa                CA-49

Carlos Curbelo         FL-26

Kevin Yoder               KS-3

Close and Trump won (n=17)

Martha Robey           AL-2

Don Young                AK-At large

Scott Tipton               CO-3

Brian Mast                 FL-18

Mike Bost                  IL-12

Trey Hollingsworth IN-9

Rod Blum                  IA-1

David Young             IA-3

Bruce Poliquin         ME-2

Jack Bergman            MI-1

Don Bacon                 NE-2

John J. Faso                NY-19

Claudia Tenney        NY-22

Tom Reed                  NY-23

Lloyd K. Smucker    PA-16

Mia Love                   UT-4

Not Close and Clinton won (n=9)

Martha E. McSalley              AZ-2

David Valadao                     CA-21

Ed Royce                               CA-39

Mimi Walters                        CA-45

Dana Rohrabacher               CA-48

Peter Roskam                       IL-6

Erik Paulsen                         MN-3

Tom Culberson                    TX-7

Pete Sessions                        TX-32

Put it this way: if Ossoff wins the runoff on June 20 and a Democrat wins Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, the Democrats would need to win just 22 remaining seats to recapture the House (assuming they lost none of their own 20 close seats). There are 31 seats where voters can truly make an impact by continuing to hold their Republican House members accountable for their AHCA “yes” vote (in clear opposition to the overall political “lean” of their constituents).

And that does not count 9 other Republican House members who voted no on the ACHA but are still potentially vulnerable.

I am not predicting that the Democrats will recapture the House in 2018. I am only saying that a VERY strong opportunity to do so, based on accelerating historical trends, the closeness of 41 (of 241) seats, and the demonstrated impact of tinkering with national health care, is there, IF the Democrats can successfully capitalize on all of these trends.

Until next time…

[1] There had been a total of 435 House seats since 1912, after Oklahoma (1907), Arizona and New Mexico (both 1912) became the 46th through 48th states.

[2] This became necessary after the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority following the death of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy on August 25, 2009 and the eventual victory of Republican Scott Brown (January 19, 2010) to replace him.

[3] Using the 1966 and 1974 data—10 first midterm election for any president—increases the average net House seat loss to 26.8.

[4] Where the 1962 value is weighted “1,” the 1970 value is weighted “2,” and so forth up to the 2010 value weighted “8.” Adding 1966 and 1974 increases the weighted average to 34.5 net House seats lost.

[5] Let me be very clear. I am NOT saying that the pursuit of national healthcare reform legislation was the sole reason for the Democrat’s very high House seat loss in 1994 and 2010. I would argue that, in 1994, the House Post Office scandal and the omnibus budget bill of 1993 (with its large tax increases) also played a huge role, as did backlash to the first black president and cap-and-trade legislation (which passed the House but died in the Senate) in 2010.

[6] This is actually a correction to that post, as I had neglected to count one close Republican House seat.

[7] Overall, 13 no votes were cast by Republicans from states Clinton won in 2016 (CO, NJ, NY, PA, VA, WA), six were cast by Republicans from states Clinton lost by less than 10 percentage points (AZ, FL, NC, OH, TX) and the other was cast by Thomas Massie of the 4th CD of Kentucky, a state Clinton lost by 29.8 percentage points. Go figure.

[8] This represents 81.3% of all Republican House seats won in 2016.