Clinton/Obama debate hits CNN high

Monday's faceoff beat YouTube GOP event

CNN perhaps benefited most as Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fought a very public war of words at Monday night’s South Carolina Democratic faceoff, the top-rated cable debate by a significant margin.

The two-hour debate pulled in an average of 4.9 million viewers — about 400,000 more than the previously most watched debate, last year’s CNN/YouTube GOP event.

CNN aired the debate between the two hotly contested South Carolina primaries. On. Jan. 19, John McCain won the Republican primary in the state, and the state will hold its Democratic primary Saturday.

The serendipitous timing is a gift that keeps on giving to the cable news nets. Attention on the race is maxed out by constant news exposure, and all of the candidates are eager to distinguish themselves during an uncertain race by “winning” a debate or catching an opponent in a mistake.

Every debate on cable news since November has averaged at least 2 million viewers, according to Nielsen.