- The Washington Times
Friday, October 17, 2008

Only Joe the Plumber garnered some visceral reactions from the nation, perhaps. The third and final presidential debate between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama Wednesday night did not draw a landmark viewing audience.

An adequate audience is more likely.

Overnight ratings in the nation’s top 56 local television markets was 38.3 rating points, according to Nielsen Media Research. One rating point equals 1 percent of the total TV audience in a given market - essentially, 38 percent of the viewers in those areas were tuned in.

In comparison, the second debate last week between the White House hopefuls received 42 rating points while their first bout on Sept. 26 received 34.7 .

The 90-minute exchange Wednesday drew the largest audience in Baltimore, followed by Washington, St. Louis and Richmond. Viewers in New Orleans, Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif., had the least interest, Nielsen found.

• Explore different election-night scenarios with our ‘Road to 270’ interactive electoral college map

But it was “Joe the Plumber” - one Joe Wurzelbacher of Ohio - who rattled the press into attack mode. Granted, the instant cultural icon gave multiple print and broadcast interviews and held a press conference following his unintentional debut on national television Tuesday.

When Mr. Obama stopped in his neighborhood, the beefy plumber asked spare but cogent questions, later referenced by Mr. McCain in mid-debate, prompting some pundits and strategists to designate him a “Republican hero.”

For better or worse, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, ABC, CBS and other news organizations quickly investigated Mr. Wurzelbacher’s tax records, professional licenses and work habits.

“Take note, America. Speak out against Obama and the media will tear you down,” noted one blogger on the Houston Chronicle’s Web site.

Americans could be sighing with relief now that the presidential debate rite is over.

A CNN/Opinion Research survey of 620 adults who watched the debate on Wednesday revealed that 67 percent were just plain done with debates. “Three is enough,” the respondents said.

Meanwhile, the final debate provided an arena for traditional broadcast rivalries: Among the “Big Three” broadcast networks, NBC led with an average of 9.9 million viewers, followed by ABC with 9.3 million viewers and CBS with 8.4 million viewers. PBS drew 3.2 million viewers.

Among the cables networks, Fox News drew 9 million viewers, CNN 8.9 million viewers and MSNBC 3.7 million.

Some analysts speculated that baseball impinged upon the debates.

The Fox entertainment network broadcast Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between Los Angeles and Philadelphia opposite the McCain/Obama match; those cities rank No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in the number of TV viewing households.

• Explore different election-night scenarios with our ‘Road to 270’ interactive electoral college map.

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