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MSNBC scores its largest audience ever with Tuesday's Dem debate

February 27, 2008 |  8:35 pm

Judging by the viewing success of recent televised political debates, it seems millions of Americans are starting to pay attention to the presidential race, especially on the still unsettled Democratic side.

Thankfully hosting what will likely be the last scheduled debate of the 2007-08 presidential primary season between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, MSNBC captured a major ratings victory today. It was the Democrats' 20th such forum.

The 96-minute decorous debate, anchored by Brian Williams and Tim Russert, drew 7.8 million viewers, the biggest audience the cable news network has ever had in its 11-year history and twice the size of the channel's previous record. (But that Tuesday night audience figure did include those watching on nine local Ohio stations that simulcast the debate.)

Until now, MSNBC's largest viewership was on March 19, 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq war, when 3.7 million people tuned in.

The Democratic face-off in Cleveland was the third highest-rated debate of the season, and made MSNBC the second-most watched network between 9 and 10:30 p.m. ET in all of television on Tuesday. Only Fox did better, airing “American Idol” and “Back to You” during the debate's first hour.

MSNBC even drew more viewers than its sister broadcast network. NBC attracted an average of 6.6 million during that time period with the second half of “The Biggest Loser” and the first half of its new show “Quarterlife.”

-- Matea Gold

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