You could call it the Rick Perry bump.
Fox News trumpeted its ratings after the Aug. 11 Republican presidential debate in Ames, Iowa, and now MSNBC is snapping its suspenders about its numbers for Wednesday's GOP debate from beneath the wings of Air Force One inside the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
Wednesday was the much-anticipated debate debut for Texas Gov. Perry, who announced his candidacy Aug. 13 and is already the field's front-runner. The debate aired on MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo, and streamed live on Politico.com.
It drew 5.4 million viewers for MSNBC, with 1.7 million viewers in the key Adults 25-54 demographic. It's the highest-rated of the four Republican debates aired so far in 2011, with two previous ones on FNC and one on CNN.
MSNBC's predictable main post-debate "analysis," which spanned the cable channel's ideological spectrum from Ed Schultz to Al Sharpton, lost half the viewers, down to 2.7 million total, with 817,000 in the target demographics.
But while MSNBC fielded its "A" team on analysis, no MSNBC personalities participated in the debate itself.
Moderators were Brian Williams of "NBC Nightly News" and John Harris, Politico's editor-in-chief, with a cameo question period by Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart for the immigration interrogations.
By contrast, June's CNN New Hampshire debate featured anchor John King, and both Fox News debates -- May in South Carolina and August in Iowa -- featured FNC anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.
The next GOP debate is Monday at 5 p.m. Pacific in Tampa, Fla., co-sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express. It will be carried live on CNN, CNN International, CNN.com and CNN Radio. Also available via live-stream in the CNN Apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.
While MSNBC got the Wednesday numbers, NBC was actually Politico's co-sponsor.
Since it's summer, it's a bit surprising that NBC didn't air its own debate -- except that Wednesday is the night of the "America's Got Talent" results show, which easily trumps choosing a presidential nominee.
The "AGT" show drew 7.9 million viewers, giving NBC the win for the evening in total viewers, and tying it with second-place CBS for the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo.
When it comes to competitions, Americans are still more interested in who will wind up with the $1 million and headline a Las Vegas show than who might move into the White House in January 2013.
-- Kate O'Hare
Media critic Kate O’Hare is a regular Ticket contributor. She also blogs about TV at Hot Cuppa TV and is a frequent contributor at entertainment news site Zap2it. Also follow O'Hare on Twitter @KateOH.
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Photos: Rick Perry on a monitor at the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library; dance group Silhouettes on "America's Got Talent." Credits: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images (Perry); Trae Patton / NBC (Silhouettes).