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ABC's Republican debate hits ratings highs

December 12, 2011 |  1:57 pm

Mitt Romney, left, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul at GOP debate on ABC.

Newt Gingrich, TV star?

Well, OK, let's not get carried away. But Saturday's Republican presidential debate — in which sudden front-runner Gingrich faced attacks on multiple fronts after languishing in the polls for months — was the most-watched GOP beauty pageant yet, with an impressive 7.6-million viewers tuning in, according to Nielsen.

Moderated by George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer, the ABC debate rumbled past other recent Republican face-offs, including a Fox News telecast on Sept. 22 (6.1 million) and CBS' live coverage on Nov. 12 (5.5 million).

There's a reason for the spiked interest — it's getting close to primary crunch time, with many GOP voters still undecided, according to polls. The Iowa caucus is just three weeks away, and Saturday's debate was the first since Herman Cain dropped out of the race, trailed by a series of allegations surrounding his personal life.

Fox News is scheduled to host another debate Thursday night in Iowa, then after the holidays the ball bounces back to ABC Jan. 7 in New Hampshire.



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Photo: Mitt Romney, left, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul at GOP debate. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images