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Bush-Kerry Debate Draws 62.5 Million Viewers

October 1, 2004

At least 62.5 million Americans tuned in to President Bush's debate with challenger John Kerry on Thursday, far surpassing the number who watched Bush's debates four years ago with Al Gore.

The 62.5 million fell way short of the record 80.6 million who watched in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter debated Republican challenger Ronald Reagan, according to figures released on Friday by Nielsen Media Research.

But Thursday's TV audience easily eclipsed both televised debates in 1996 between then-President Bill Clinton and Robert Dole, which averaged just over 36 million each.

It also squeaked past the viewer tally posted for the first of three debates in 1992 between Bush's father, Clinton and independent candidate Ross Perot(62.4 million).

NBC provided the most-watched coverage of Thursday night's 90-minute broadcast, moderated by Jim Lehrer in Coral Gables, Florida, with 17.2 million viewers. CBS was second with 13.5 million, followed by ABC with 11.5 million.

Fox News Channel, a separate cable network from Fox Broadcasting Co., ranked fourth overall with 9.6 million viewers but was No. 1 among the cable networks.

Fox Broadcasting ranked fifth overall, with 5.2 million viewers and was second in the cable news category, ahead of CNN with 4.4 million and MSNBC at 1.2 million.

The last presidential debate to top Thursday night's broadcast was the second Bush-Clinton-Perot matchup, which drew the biggest audience of that series -- 69.9 million viewers.

Four years ago, the first Bush-Gore debate notched 46.6 million viewers across all seven networks. The two others drew nearly 38 million each.