John Edwards events test the waters

Three months after confessing to an affair on national television, John Edwards ended his self-imposed exile this week with a pair of appearances that could be the beginning of a bid for public rehabilitation.

The former Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator debated Republican strategist Karl Rove in San Francisco on Thursday, two days after speaking at Indiana University.

"It's a very good way to just poke your head out a little bit, see what happens, see what public reaction is like," said Jonathan Bernstein, a California-based crisis management consultant. "Humility and honesty go a long way to repairing an image."

At a time when he once hoped to be headed for the White House, Edwards is the subject of gossip columns speculating about the state of his marriage and the paternity of the child of his former mistress.

"He is working on the issue with his family, but also working on the topic of poverty that is very critical to him and shouldn't be completely overshadowed by everything else," says friend John Moylan, a Columbia, S.C., lawyer.

Efforts to reach Edwards were unsuccessful.

In August he acknowledged an affair with former campaign worker Rielle Hunter. Though he'd already asked an aide to draft a speech for the Democratic convention, he was not invited. He canceled several fall speaking engagements, saying he wanted to stay out of public view until after the election in order not to distract from Barack Obama's campaign.

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