The November elections account for most chatter coming out of the Hill these days, with the TV/movie/entertainment industry already doling out $15.2 million in contributions this election cycle. NCTA ranks as the biggest industry contributor (nearly $1.4 million), according to the most recent data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The cable industry cares a great deal about the outcome of the elections, deservedly so. Several tight races involve members of the Senate Commerce Committee, and while not every senator is necessarily a “friend” of cable, it’s helpful to have some consistency in the committee’s membership—particularly because of the complex nature of some of the issues. New members generally need to be briefed on complicated issues such as retransmission consent and multicast must-carry all over again.

One of the hottest U.S. Senate races for the cable industry to follow is in Montana, where incumbent Republican Conrad Burns faces state Senate president Jon Tester. Burns came out as an early supporter of cable’s stance on video franchising, releasing a list of video franchise principles with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) that included local control. Burns’ record on cable is somewhat mixed—he is a former broadcaster after all.

Still, ACA president/CEO Matt Polka says Burns is a “very good senator to work with” and is a rural champion on the Commerce Committee. Burns is No. 7 on the list of top recipients of TV/movie/entertainment donations, with his $6.8 million total (all donations) raised, far eclipsing Tester’s $1.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Polls have him and Tester neck-and-neck, with one recent poll showing Tester winning 52% to 43%.

Another race to keep an eye on is the Senate seat in Virginia, as it could be a target for Dems looking to recapture a majority (or at least a few more seats). Republican incumbent George Allen’s race against former Republican James Webb has gotten much closer in recent weeks. Allen has emerged as a Commerce member who is favorable on most cable issues because he is staunchly deregulatory—he opposes a la carte, multicast must-carry, etc.

Other close races include Commerce member Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Some consider her vulnerable because of strong Republican challenger Michael McGavick. We have our doubts, but nothing’s ever sure in politics. On the House side, Commerce member Heather Wilson (R-NM) is in a horse race against state Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

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FCC Meeting Dispatch

FCC chmn Ajit Pai would not confirm whether or not he will be leaving the Commission before the end of the year when asked during a press conference Wednesday.

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