Environment: Perdue’s signature proposal, a Green Business Fund, would provide venture-capital grants to developers of clean, alternative energy sources: wind, solar, biofuels and conservation. (A pilot is already operating.) The fund is the centerpiece of a broader clean-energy agenda she’s offered that is “thoughtful and forward-looking,” says the political director of the Conservation Council of North Carolina, Brownie Newman. Perdue has received the Council PAC’s endorsement as well as the Sierra Club’s. Chris Dowdle, Sierra Club political director, points to Perdue’s opposition to Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plant, which McCrory supported, as well as McCrory’s misplaced (in his view) emphasis on off-shore drilling as a future energy solution.

However, in response to McCrory’s drilling stance, Perdue, who initially pronounced herself “100 percent opposed” to it, reversed herself. She says she would approve it, but only if the environmental analysis was favorable.

McCrory gives lip service to wind, solar and other renewable energy, but primarily he favors more nuclear plants and off-shore drilling.

Health Care: Adam Searing, head of the N.C. Justice Center’s Health Access Coalition, says there’s “a huge difference” between the candidates in this areain Perdue’s favor. Perdue wants to ensure that every child has access to affordable health insurance. Her proposal would make an additional 275,000 children eligible for the state’s “Kid Care” program at the relatively modest cost to the state of $25 million annually. She also proposes to make a basic Medicaid health plan available to some 125,000 low-income parents of these children at an estimated state cost of $78 million a year.

McCrory doesn’t have a specific health-care plan, but in general, he proposes to free insurance companies of state mandatesrequirements that they cover procedures like cancer screenings and mastectomies. McCrory spokesperson Amy Auth told the Health Access Coalition: “Individuals should have the option of [buying] comprehensive care or a less expensive option.” The problem with that, Searing says, is that you don’t know which options you need until you need themand then it’s too late.

Education: Perdue’s ads attacking McCrory’s support for private-school vouchers have taken a toll. McCrory’s backed away from a more enthusiastic position in favor of vouchers during GOP primary season; now he says he would offer them only to poor kids in low-performing public schools, and insists he never offered a specific plan.

Otherwise, the differences between the two candidates are subtle, says Tony Habit, head of the non-partisan N.C. New Schools Project in Raleigh. McCrory often mentions making vocational education a “point of emphasis” in high schools; not every student, he says, needs a four-year college education.

Perdue, in contrast, is a strong proponent of the idea that every student, whether they’re training to be a biologist or plumber, needs “a 21st-century skill set” that includes higher-order literacy, advanced math and problem-solving abilities.

“The key” to future job success, Habit says, “is the ability to learn and re-learn in real-world settings.”

Habit’s organization doesn’t endorse candidates, but Perdue is backed by the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Gay Rights: McCrory supports adding a ban on gay marriage to the state constitution, the pet idea of several evangelical Christian groups. Perdue, like most of the state’s Democratic leadership, opposes the amendment, saying the state law against gay marriage makes an amendment unnecessary.

In the lieutenant governor’s office, Perdue adopted a policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, and she promises to extend it to all of state government if she wins.

Perdue is endorsed by the Equality NC PAC, the leading gay-rights advocacy group in Raleigh. “We met with Lt. Gov. Perdue, and she expressed support for our core positions of non-discrimination, safe schools and opposition to the amendment,” says Ian Palmquist, director of Equality NC. “Mayor McCrory in Charlotte opposed even basic protections for city employees.”

Political Reform: McCrory and Perdue both promise to clean up the Board of Transportation and remove the members’ power to grease specific road projects. Perdue goes a step further, however, in fingering the underlying problem: Gubernatorial candidates must raise big money from somewhere to get elected.

Her first executive order, she says, will create a “North Carolina Endowment for Positive Gubernatorial Campaigns.” She’s already tapped Tom Lambeth, the squeaky-clean former head of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, to take on the job of raising private funds for the endowment to support “gubernatorial candidates who pledge to run positive campaigns.” Perdue supports public financing in all Council of State races as well.

Perdue also promises to appoint a citizens’ panel whose best budget-reform ideas would go directly to the General Assembly for a vote. Otherwise, the two candidates vie to be seen as the most open, accountable and clean. Both promise to be unlike Easley: They’ll leave their office, greet the public, visit state agencies, preserve their e-mails, and in McCrory’s case, hold weekly press conferences.