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For CNN: It’s “Substance, not Horse Race”

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With two more debates next week, CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein is confident his political team has found the formula for success. “Letting the candidates talk at length,” Klein tells TVNewser. “I think that’s the reason behind the general interest in debates and certainly a driver of the debates that we’ve broadcast.”

Klein is coming off a successful string of primary debates. His network has the top three debates on cable and Monday’s Democratic face-off in South Carolina was the most-watched primary debate ever on cable.

“The audience wants the journalists to step out of the way,” Klein says. As for the criticism that moderator Wolf Blitzer may have stepped too far out of the way, allowing Monday’s debate to veer off into personal attacks, Klein says, “Our questions were substantive, we stuck with that, they [Sens. Clinton & Obama] took it to that other place.”

And while CNN’s debates and primary election coverage have been ratings success stories, the momentum does not always carryover to the next day. The day after the New Hampshire primary CNN lost 37% of its total day/Total Viewer audience (1.03M v. 657K) while FNC lost just 10% (1.28M v. 1.15M). The prime time/Total Viewer losses were even greater: CNN down 68% day-to-day (3.28M v. 1.03M) over FNC’s 36% drop (3.02M v. 1.19M).

Klein is upbeat about his between-the-events political programming.

“We’ve got Lou Dobbs focusing on the independent voters, [we're] looking closely at what’s not working in current government [and] continuing with ballot bowl. And CNN Election Center at 8, is a fun way to sink our teeth in the political stories of the day,” Klein says. “Substance, not horse race.”

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