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Last night’s feisty debate between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his opponent, Paul Ryan, attracted 51.4 million TV viewers, a 27 percent decline from the faceoff between Biden and Sarah Palin four years ago.
News Corp. (NWSA)’s Fox News cable channel led all outlets with 10 million total viewers, according to TVbythenumbers.com. CBS Corp. (CBS)’s network drew 8.31 million viewers to lead broadcasters, according to Nielsen data.
Biden, 69, and Ryan, 42, faced off for 90 minutes at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, in more adversarial debate than last week’s match between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Anticipation was high for the vice- presidential debate after Romney’s well-received performance on Oct. 3 led to a comeback in polls.
“I was predicting it would get higher ratings than it did,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. “It almost seemed like part two of a two-part drama.”
In the last election cycle, the Biden-Palin contest was the most-watched with 70 million tuning in. An estimated 67.2 million watched Obama debate Romney last week, according to Nielsen data. Four years ago, the first debate between then- candidate Obama and Republican John McCain drew an audience of 52.4 million.
Biden and Ryan faced off as polls showed a tightening race between the president and his challenger. Biden and Ryan sparred on abortion, the economy and foreign policy, while also offering personal insights about their shared Catholic faith. Moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News won plaudits for taking a more active role than PBS’s Jim Lehrer did on Oct. 3.
“She was clearly in control given that we had two pretty combative debaters,” said Brett Pulley, dean of the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. “Jim Lehrer was criticized for not maintaining control. I thought her performance really stood in stark contrast.”
Raddatz, a senior foreign affairs correspondent, stepped in to end discussion when the candidates bickered, and demanded more concrete answers, such as this request of Ryan: “I want to know how you do the math and have this increase in defense spending.”
“Be specific,” she urged Biden after he called Ryan’s criticism of the administration’s foreign policy, “a bunch of malarkey.”
Raddatz’s performance drew praise from Obama supporters, while some Romney partisans considered her a one-sided enforcer.
“I vote for Martha Raddatz to moderate all the debates,” film reviewer Roger Ebert, who has expressed disappointment in Romney’s recent rise in polls, said on Twitter.com.
“Biden is out of control and Raddatz appears to have given up trying to rein him in!” Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, a Republican, said on Twitter.com.
ABC attracted 8.29 million viewers, NBC drew 7.85 million and Fox on broadcast had 5.05 million, according to Nielsen data supplied by the networks. On cable, MSNBC attracted 4.38 million and CNN registered 4.15 million, TVbytheNumbers.com said.
Raddatz may have come out the winner last night. Her star power “was definitely enhanced,” said Pulley.
“If we seem very proud, we’ve always known what a great journalist she is and we’re happy everybody else does too,” ABC anchor Diane Sawyer said last night.
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