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Edwards acknowledges difficult public image

Disgraced former Democratic candidate throws himself into charity work to salvage his reputation.

Former presidential candidate John Edwards (r.) and his wife and daughter show talk show host Oprah Winfrey around their Chapel Hill, N.C., home in this May file photo from a taping of Winfrey's show.

Harpo Productions/AP

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John Edwards says he has few illusions. He knows the picture many Americans hold of him is not a pretty one. He also knows that even before he was engulfed in tabloid scandal, his electoral appeal had limits. And he believes that President Obama, the man who stole whatever rising-star magic he once had, is doing a good job.

Yet as he spends his days in his family's mansion on the outskirts of Chapel Hill, N.C., Edwards can't help but fret about how Washington and the country are getting on in his absence. He worries about the concessions that may be made on health care reform, which he was promoting more aggressively than anyone on the presidential campaign trail. He worries about who will speak out for the country's neediest at a time when most attention is focused on the suddenly imperiled middle class.

"What happens now? If you were to ask people during the campaign who's talking most about (poverty), it was me," he said in a recent interview. "There's a desperate need in the world for a voice of leadership on this issue... The president's got a lot to do, he's got a lot of people to be responsible for, so I'm not critical of him, but there does need to be an aggressive voice beside the president."

It has been 10 months since Edwards looked into a TV camera and said that in 2006, while preparing for his second run for president and while his wife's cancer was in remission, he had engaged in an affair with a videographer working for him, Rielle Hunter - and then decided to run for president anyway, risking a scandal that could have devastated Democrats' chances had he won the nomination.

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