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Debate was most-watched program in CNN history

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Mark J. Terrill/AP

First Donald Trump helped break Fox News records, now the Republican candidate has done the same for CNN. 

Wednesday night’s second GOP debate delivered 22.9 million viewers — the biggest audience in the cable news network’s history. 

That’s not just the best numbers ever for the network, but the highest by a huge margin. The previous high was all the way back in 1993, when another unpredictable wildcard political candidate, Ross Perot, debated Al Gore on a special Larry King Live. That program drew 16.8 million viewers. The previous presidential primary leader was the Democratic debate in 2008, which had “only” 8.3 million viewers by comparison. 

CNN’s takeway was still slightly lower than Fox News’ first debate coverage a month ago in Ohio, which had 24 million viewers. But the Fox News debate was two hours long, while CNN — almost certainly sensing a major ad sales opportunity after the first debate’s performance — stretched its telecast to three hours. 

While the stage included 11 candidates, it’s hard to imagine the numbers would be even half this size without Trump, who sparks a “what will he say next?” curiosity, even among his distractors. 

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