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POSTED: September 5, 2012 9:01 a.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Democrats are using one of Barack Obama's strong suits, that voters believe he understands the problems of ordinary people, to trump his weakest suit, the economy.

Michelle Obama played those cards with force in a speech declaring that after four years as president, her husband is still the man who drove a rust-bucket on early dates, rescued a coffee table from the trash and knows the struggles of everyday Americans because he lived them in full.

"I have seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are," the first lady said to lusty cheers Tuesday night in a deeply personal, yet unmistakably political testimonial highlighting the Democratic National Convention's opening night.

Bill Clinton, the last president to preside over sustained economic growth and a balanced budget, gets the star turn Wednesday night in a speech placing Obama's name into nomination — a high point in a checkered relationship between two men who sparred, sometimes sharply, in the 2008 primaries, when Clinton was supporting wife Hillary's campaign for the nomination.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the career venture capitalist, appeared nowhere in Mrs. Obama's remarks. But there was no mistaking the contrast she was drawing when she laid out certain values, "that how hard you work matters more than how much you make, that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself."

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ESSAY: Bill Clinton, a living political legend with all the attendant excess baggage

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Every political party has had leaders it would like to exalt and leaders it would like to forget. Bill Clinton has managed to be both. He is the closest thing American politics has to a rock star, and he has sometimes behaved like one.

Luckily for President Barack Obama, Clinton today is about as popular as a political figure can be. And he is popular with exactly the voters that Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party have a hard time reaching — which is to say, white people. That is why even though they haven't always been close, Obama invited Clinton to nominate him in prime time Wednesday evening, the first former president to do that.

It is an extraordinary moment in the annals of presidential politics. Ex-presidents are sometimes useful for shows of party unity or reminders of good times. Nixon did convince Eisenhower to endorse him just before the contentious 1968 convention, recalled Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian. But like the old soldier that Ike was, most ex-presidents have generally faded away.

They don't want me around, Harry S. Truman once said. Al Gore wouldn't take Bill Clinton's help in 2000, which in retrospect looks like a big mistake. Jimmy Carter has been described as the nation's best ex-president, but he won't be a big factor in the Obama campaign because his 1980 defeat by Ronald Reagan is too reminiscent of the present economic and political dynamic. And George W. Bush was nowhere to be seen at his party convention last week.

"After the White House," said Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, "what is there to do but drink?"

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Jurors to begin deliberations at Drew Peterson murder trial

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Now, it's jurors' turn.

After years of speculation, national media attention and more than a month of testimony, allegations that Drew Peterson murdered his third wife are finally expected to go to a jury Wednesday.

The 12 jurors — seven men and five women — are scheduled to receive instructions from the judge in the morning, then withdraw to a Joliet courthouse room to begin deliberating over five weeks of circumstantial and hearsay evidence.

Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Kathleen Savio's 2004 death. The former Bolingbrook police sergeant fell under scrutiny in Savio's death only after his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in 2007.

Peterson's attorneys said their client has braced himself for jurors' decision.

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Ex-Formula One driver Alex Zanardi takes on a new race, seeking gold in Paralympics cycling

LONDON (AP) — Alex Zanardi just can't stop racing.

The former Formula One driver is vying for a Paralympic medal Wednesday in paracycling — a hand cycle powered by the arms — at the Brands Hatch race track, where he once raced cars. It's really incredible, when you realize the 45-year-old almost died in a horrific accident in a 2001 CART race in Germany.

"For a brief moment I found myself thinking of all the things I've done," Zanardi said on his Twitter feed before leaving for the London Paralympics. "I'm a lucky boy!"

His journey to the Paralympics began at the American Memorial 500 on Sept. 15, 2001, at the Eurospeedway Lausitz in Germany — the only American-based series to go forward on the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Zanardi, a former two-time CART champion, had had a difficult season and started 22nd in a field of 27, but the car was responding well. He was enjoying the drive, passing one car after another, until with 13 laps to go he was in the lead.

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GOP spotlights Cuban-Americans while Democrats highlight Mexican-Americans at conventions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Hispanics with the highest profiles in this year's political conventions, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, stand as opposites in a cultural and political split that has divided millions of U.S. Latinos for decades.

Republicans chose Rubio, who is Cuban-American, to introduce Mitt Romney at the party's convention last week. Democrats, meeting this week in Charlotte, N.C., picked Castro, who is Mexican-American, as keynote speaker, the role that launched a young Barack Obama to national political prominence.

Although they often are lumped together as Hispanics, Rubio and Castro are emblematic of acute political distinctions between Mexican-Americans, who are the largest Latino group in the U.S., and Cuban-Americans, who are the most politically active. Despite their shared language, these two constituencies have different histories in the United States and are subjected to distinctions in immigration policy that go easier on Cuban immigrants.

"Historically, many Cuban-Americans for the last few decades have tended to be a little more conservative. So it's not surprising that you would see Sen. Rubio and the Republican nominee for Senate in Texas, Ted Cruz, running as Republicans," Castro told The Associated Press. "And I don't begrudge them for that. I think the policies they espouse are wrong, are not the best ones. But, you know, they're doing what they believe. And I applaud them for that."

Rubio, 41, was born in Miami. His parents left their native Cuba for the U.S. 2½ years before Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government. Fifty-nine percent of Cubans in the U.S. in 2010 were foreign-born, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and three-quarters were American citizens.

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CONVENTION WATCH: Michelle's words, Julian Castro's mom

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Convention Watch shows you the 2012 political conventions through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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GETTING PERSONAL

She spoke of quiet moments, of a relationship's early days — of a man who, seen through her eyes, is not a world leader but a husband and a partner.

Michelle Obama gave a remarkably personal account of her husband and their marriage in her speech to the Democratic convention. In a voice often soft, even girlish, the first lady talked about things like the quiet hours in the evening when the president sits hunched over a desk, worrying about people who are facing troubles. She talked about how he would check their baby daughters' breathing at times just to make sure they still were alive.

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Clinton, China leaders talk but get no closer to agreement on Syria or S. China Sea disputes

BEIJING (AP) — Talks between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese leaders Wednesday failed to narrow gaps on how to end the crisis in Syria and how to resolve Beijing's territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea.

Clinton, who met President Hu Jintao, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other top officials but not leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping, wants China to stop backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has been pushing for it to be more flexible in lowering tensions over the potentially oil-rich South China Seas.

But comments from Clinton and Yang showed that the countries remain deeply divided on those issues, although both maintained they are committed to working together despite their differences.

The United States and other countries are upset that China and Russia have repeatedly used their veto powers in the U.N. Security Council to block actions that could have led to sanctions against Assad's regime. China says Syria's civil war needs to be resolved through negotiations and not outside pressure.

"I think history will judge that China's position on the Syria question is a promotion of the appropriate handling of the situation," Yang told a news conference with Clinton. "For what we have in mind is the interests of the people of Syria and the region and the interests of peace, stability and development in the region and throughout the world."

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Colombia peace talks complicated by lack of cease-fire, drug-trafficking rebels

BOGOTA (AP) — The image is seared in Colombian minds: The country's president sits on a big stage looking glum, hands folded in his lap, next to an empty chair.

It is January 1999. At the inauguration of peace talks, the founding leader of the Western Hemisphere's biggest leftist rebel army has snubbed President Andres Pastrana.

Cursed, the peace talks drag on for three years in a safe haven the size of Switzerland that the government has ceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which wages war elsewhere, kidnaps and extorts unabated and expands its cocaine business.

Ten years later, in a wealthier, far more stable Colombia, a different president is giving peace yet another chance.

"Any responsible leader knows he can't let pass up a possibility like this to end the conflict," President Juan Manuel Santos told the nation Tuesday in announcing an accord with the peasant-based FARC to seek "a definitive peace."

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Goodbye asteroid Vesta: NASA Dawn spacecraft to journey to dwarf planet Ceres

LOS ANGELES (AP) — One asteroid down, one to go.

After spending a year gazing at Vesta, NASA's Dawn spacecraft was set to cruise toward the most massive space rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — a voyage that will take nearly three years.

Firing its ion propulsion thrusters, Dawn had been slowly spiraling away from Vesta for more than a month until it was to pop free from its gravitational grip. Since its antenna was pointed away from Earth during this last maneuver, engineers would not know until Wednesday how it went.

The departure was considered ho-hum compared with other recent missions — think Curiosity's white-knuckle "seven minutes of terror" dive into Mars' atmosphere.

"It's not a sudden event. There's no whiplash-inducing maneuver. There's no tension, no anxiety," said chief engineer Marc Rayman of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $466 million mission. "It's all very gentle and very graceful."

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Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning among the elite after 2 titles

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Eli Manning is no longer living in the shadow of his big brother. Far from it.

The New York Giants quarterback enters the kickoff to the NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday night as a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He's now unquestionably among the league's elite after leading Tom Coughlin's team to two titles in five seasons, and a third title is a distinct possibility with the 31-year-old seemingly getting better coming off a career season.

What's even more impressive is Eli is still Eli. He's hard-working, laid-back and looking for nothing more than doing it better than the year before.

"Each year you try to improve and get better," Manning said during training camp. "There's definitely room for improvement. There's no question about it. Most of the things I'm working on are: decision making, eliminating turnovers, and being more accurate. Just continuing to try and work on my skills. Making sure you don't have any missed opportunities. That when guys are open, I'm hitting them."

Former Giants center Shaun O'Hara said most people don't realize how hard Manning works. He usually is one of the first players at the team's headquarters in the morning and stays as long as anyone.

 

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