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CNN’s Democratic S.C. Debate Sets Cable News Record

As the 2008 presidential race heads toward Super Tuesday -- or Tsunami Tuesday, as it is being dubbed in this most competitive election season -- viewers are tuning in to the debates in record numbers.

CNN's Democratic face-off among Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) in South Carolina Monday night drew a record 4.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The debate also set records in key demographics, attracting 1.8 million viewers in the 18-49 demo and 1.9 million viewers in news' target demo of 25- to 54-year-olds.

It was the most-watched cable news debate of the 2008 election season, topping CNN's GOP YouTube debate in November, which drew 4.4 million viewers.

The two-hour debate was marked by early spirited -- or rancorous -- exchanges among all three candidates. The second half of the debate -- which switched to a more causal format -- was distinguished by tempered and at times complimentary remarks from the candidates who also acknowledged the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the occasion of his birthday.

The CNN debates also stand as the No. 1- and 2-ranked debates in cable news since 1996, with a Republican debate from the hotly contested 2000 campaign rounding out the top three.