The morning after the Democratic primary debate on Feb. 21, while both sides argued over who had come out ahead, there was one clear winner: CNN. The debate, broadcast by CNN and Univision, the Spanish-language network, drew 7.6 million viewers, one of the biggest audiences ever for a primary debate on a cable network.
The debate was held at the University of Texas, Austin, but Jim Walton, president of the CNN news group, was savoring the victory a long way off — in his 21st floor office at the Time Warner Center in New York. For Mr. Walton, the high ratings from this year's presidential race are an indication of a broader achievement.
In his five years at the helm, Mr. Walton has taken a network beaten down from its competition with the Fox News Channel and managed to streamline top management, raise its profits and increase its audience.
"It was a combination of a lot of things," Mr. Walton said, commenting on the low morale at the network when he took over. "CNN had gone for 15 years without competition. Profits of the company were not where they should have been. There were management changes. It was like the perfect storm."