RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (AP) -- Two candidates for North Carolina governor disagreed less with each other in a statewide televised debate Wednesday night than with their common rival, who wasn't on the podium.
Republican Pat McCrory and Libertarian Mike Munger, who had the stage to themselves at the University of North Carolina Television studios because Democrat Beverly Perdue declined to participate, found common ground on education, transportation and offshore drilling.
Their strongest objections came against the current state government and Perdue, the lieutenant governor, who had already agreed to five debates during the general election campaign.
"The fact that we're both here tonight shows that neither one of us is afraid of making sure that all views are presented to the public," said Munger, a Duke University political science professor.
McCrory, Charlotte's mayor since 1995, said Perdue's decision reinforces his view that state leaders have been inaccesible to the public: "I think that disrespects the voters of North Carolina."
On the issues, Munger and McCrory largely supported similar goals but for different reasons, and Munger stuck to Libertarian principles of a small, unobstrusive government.
Munger, who has been excluded from previous debates and forums, had plenty to gain Wednesday night by presenting his philosophy to a statewide audience, saying that a vote for a third-party candidate is not a wasted choice.
"You can go to the polls and fail to send a signal of the kind that would actually matter to our leaders in Raleigh," Munger said. "You can say, 'I'm not satisfied with the choices that are presented to me.'"
Munger only has to receive 2 percent of the vote on Election Day — down from 10 percent after passage of a 2006 law — to prevent the Libertarians from having to collect at least 70,000 signatures to remain on the ballot in the next election cycle.
On education, Munger and McCrory agreed that the state's cap on charter schools should be lifted and believes teacher pay should be differentiated based on demands in the classroom.
Both said they supported private school vouchers, although Munger wants a broad program and McCrory a much smaller program targeted to help special needs students.
Munger has said he would give parents $1,250 toward each student for education, which combined with class-size reduction and flexible school construction, would reduce the state's poor graduation rate.
Perdue "said that she did not want to have all the same paradigms but she also said that the governor is responsible for education," Munger said. "Why aren't parents responsible for education?"
Both said they support offshore drilling for oil off the North Carolina coast, although Munger called it a "gimmick" and wouldn't lead to lower gas prices.
On capital punishment, Munger said he would commute the sentences of everyone on death row to life in prison, while McCrory wants executions to resume.
Executions have been put on hold in North Carolina as elected leaders and the courts have tried to untangle a web of litigation and state law related to a physician's role in the process.
Munger said there can be no guarantee that criminals that could be executed are getting equal treatment under the law: "I don't think we have any business killing our citizens, and I want the killing to stop."
But McCrory said he's seen the horror of police officers being killed in the line of duty. A jury of peers — not the government — sometimes decides the death of a murderer is warranted, he said.
"In certain cases you have to follow through on what the people say," he said.
Munger had the most intriguing lines in the hour-long debate, referring to targeted tax incentives to large companies as "economic prostitution" and said wasteful spending by the state's faltering mental health system "looked more like a frat party" earlier this decade.
Munger also likened a governor wielding the veto to a parent who spanks his child, calling it a failure because the governor hasn't worked well enough with the Legislature to get the expected outcome.
"If the governor has to consistently use the veto threat to get his way, he's just being a bully," he said.
All three candidates are scheduled to participate in an Oct. 15 debate in Charlotte.