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Groups Make Case for Inclusion of Their Issues in Next Debate

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Another group of environmentalists, led by the League of Conservation Voters, launched a petition urging Lehrer to press the candidates on climate change. The petition closed with more 66,000 signatures, but Lehrer didn't bring up the topic.

There is a similar strategic split among campaign finance reform advocates, who want the candidates forced on the record about the influx of undisclosed and corporate money this election cycle.

Common Cause, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and other transparency advocates petitioned Lehrer to ask the candidates whether they would support an amendment to the Constitution overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. He didn't.

The relatively unstructured debate presented opportunities for the candidates to address campaign finance, said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.

"I can see exactly why they didn't. They are both up to their eyeballs in it," she said. "To go through these three debates and ignore the elephant in the room would be a disservice. ... But I'm kind of hesitant to tell reporters how to do their jobs."

A few industry groups struck political gold, though.

Coal stocks rose Thursday after Romney declared, "I like coal." It was a big win for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which spent the summer pushing its cause online and to voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia in hopes that the candidates would use the debate to address the consequences of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Romney paid his respects to the National Federation of Independent Business and President Barack Obama gave a shout-out to AARP (which shouted back Wednesday evening, asking him to keep the group out of his talking points).

Generation Opportunity, a conservative youth voter mobilization group, celebrated a more modest victory.

Romney recited a statistic - half of today's college graduates cannot find jobs - from a Rutgers University study the group had promoted.

"We've been flagging that thing to people for months," said Paul Conway, Generation Opportunity's president.

Clarification: Oct. 5, 12:43 p.m.

An earlier version of this article implied that an op-ed was submitted by the National Resources Defense Council. The op-ed was submitted by the NRDC Action Fund, a 501(c)(4).

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