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Democratic presidential hopefuls on the debate stage on Sept. 12, in Houston. Photo: Robyn Back/AFP/Getty Images

Early and unofficial Nielsen ratings on Thursday night's Democratic presidential primary debate well exceeded 10 million viewers, far above other programs on TV that night, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Though the official numbers are set to release Friday afternoon, the preliminary numbers show that interest in the primary process is higher than past primaries.

Context: The third Democratic primary debate ahead of the 2016 election averaged only 8 million total viewers, but ABC held that debate on a Saturday night, a traditionally low-viewing night for networks.

  • The first round of the debates in June averaged 16.7 million viewers over the 2 nights.
  • The second round in July on CNN averaged 9.7 million viewers over the 2 nights.

Of note: With an unofficial 11.4 household rating, Thursday's debate ranked just behind the record-setting night 2 of the June debate, which had 18.1 million viewers.

Between the lines: ABC's status as a broadcast network, Univision's involvement and all 10 of the top-polling candidates sharing the debate stage for the first time may have helped boost the numbers.

Yes, but: ABC may have had more viewers if it had not scheduled the debate on the same night as the NFL's Thursday Night Football.

Go deeper: The viral moments from last night's debate

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
4 hours ago - Health

Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has picked former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, a day after unveiling a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus.

Why it matters: Biden's transition team said Kessler has been advising the president-elect since the beginning of the pandemic, and hopes his involvement will help accelerate vaccination, the New York Times reports. Operation Warp Speed's current director, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on as a consultant.

The case of the missing relief money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A chunk of stimulus payments is missing in action, thanks to a mix up that put as many as 13 million checks into invalid bank accounts.

Why it matters: The IRS (by law) was supposed to get all payments out by Friday. Now the onus could shift to Americans to claim the money on their tax refund — further delaying relief to struggling, lower-income Americans.

The post-Trump GOP, gutted

McConnell (L), McCarthy (R) and Trump. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Republicans will emerge from the Trump era gutted financially, institutionally and structurally.

The big picture: The losses are stark and substantial.