RALEIGH, N.C. — Now that he has survived his campaign corruption trial, John Edwards may face an even tougher fight to regain the public's respect.

Image experts and friends recommended that the disgraced former Democratic presdential candidate put his public and political life on hold for a few years. The details of his affair and child with his mistress that were replayed at his trial are too fresh, they say.

"Plant a small garden, tend that garden and wait and listen," said Wade Smith, an attorney who hired Edwards when he was a young attorney and represented him before the trial.

Then a number of things might be possible – a legal career representing breast cancer patients, and the poor, or life as a stay-at-home father. But not a career in politics, ever.

"I think John Edwards has no political future. Nada, zip," said Emory University political science professor Merle Black. "I can't think of any Democrat in the country that would want to be on the same stage with John Edwards."

Jurors said they put aside Edwards' transgressions and focused on prosecutors' lack of evidence when they acquitted him on one count of illegally accepting campaign contributions and deadlocked on five other charges. Edwards was accused of orchestrating a plan to use money from campaign donors to hide his mistress, Rielle Hunter, while he ran for the White House.

Only time will tell if he can rehabilitate his image from sex scandals like other high-profile politicians, such as former President Bill Clinton, ex-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"I would tell him to disappear and take care of his family," said Gary Pearce, a former political consultant who helped Edwards win a U.S. Senate seat in 1998. "There is arguably no man in public life more despised than he is."

Edwards wasn't specific about his future plans as he spoke Thursday outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro.

"I don't think God's through with me," Edwards said. "I really believe he thinks there's still some good things I can do and whatever happens with this legal stuff going forward, what I'm hopeful about is all those kids that I've seen, you know in the poorest parts of this country and some of the poorest parts in the world that I can help them."

Friends said they were not exactly sure what he had in mind when he mentioned the poor. He helped develop the University of North Carolina School of Law's Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity, which helps advocates for proposals and policies to lessen poverty across the nation.

Edwards also spoke about his current daily routine – making breakfast and sending his 14-year-old daughter Emma Claire and his 12-year-old son Jack to school. He even mentioned his late 16-year-old son Wade, who died in a 1996 auto accident. And he talked publicly about his daughter with Hunter for the first time, saying he loved Frances Quinn Hunter "more than any of you can ever imagine."

His relationship with Hunter is less clear. After Edwards finished his statement, a tabloid reporter asked Edwards if he still loved Hunter and whether he planned to marry her. Edwards bowed his head slightly and turned away without acknowledging the question. His daughter, Cate, who looks much like her mother, shot the reporter a steely gaze.

No one answered the door at Hunter's home in Charlotte after the mistrial was declared. Edwards has said he has been providing financial support for his daughter with Hunter ever since he acknowledged he was her father in 2010.

His personal financial worth isn't known. While he made millions as a personal injury lawyer, he hasn't practiced law in more than a decade and his law license is inactive.

Media consultant Bill Hillsman, president of North Woods Advertising in Minneapolis, said Edwards could do pro bono legal work for breast cancer, the disease that killed his wife, Elizabeth, or work on poverty issues.

Edwards can rehabilitate his image, Hillsman said. "I'm certain of it on a national scale," he said. "I don't know if he could do that in North Carolina."

According to testimony at his trial, Edwards has spoken to friends about his dream of opening a law firm specializing in representing low-income and indigent clients.

Black, of Emory, said it might be difficult for Edwards to practice law again because opposing lawyers could talk about his public lies about the Hunter affair.

Whatever he does, Edwards should eschew cameras, microphones and Twitter, said Harlan Loeb, a crisis management expert in Chicago. Edwards could change his public story by the work he does out of the spotlight, he said.

"He needs to do a considerable amount of work over a sustained period of time," Loeb said.

It might take even longer for people to forget how far the U.S. senator, vice presidential nominee and Democratic presidential contender fell from grace.

"We had such high hopes of him. He represented regular people against corporations. He was long married to a woman who didn't look like a trophy wife," said celebrity attorney Gloria Allred. "He had charisma, personality, commitment and experience. He had so much farther to fall so the disappointment is much greater."

Smith, Edwards' friend for about 30 years, said there's still hope, and forgiveness ahead, for Edwards.

"The people of this country are a forgiving people and they understand that folks make terrible mistakes, that people get themselves in awful messes," Smith said.

"He has a lot going for him, a lot of ability. The time will come when there will be things for him to do that will be worthwhile, and he will know what they are if he will be quiet and listen."

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Associated Press writer Johnny Clark in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Martha Waggoner can be reached at . Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck. http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

Below, a recap of Edwards' relationship with Hunter:
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  • Love At First Sight?

    "And when they left, my friend went over and asked Tony if that was John Edwards, and he said yes. And my friend turned to me and said, 'See, I told you it was John Edwards.' And then I came over to the table, and I said, 'I can't believe that was John Edwards; he's so hot. He's really got it going on. He's got something unusual about him, and I never would have recognized him.' And Tony said, 'Oh, my God, you should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to have heard that.'"

  • An Extraordinary Night

    "We had an extraordinary night, and I did know that this was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. And as we have all learned, that was accurate! [laughs] He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really [screw] up my plans for becoming President.' And of course I said, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'"

  • The Oddest Connection He Had Ever Felt

    "Well, what Johnny later told me was, he went to dinner and could not stop thinking about me, like, 'Who was that woman, and why didn't I go over and talk to her?' ... So when he walked around the corner and saw me standing there, he lit up like a Christmas tree. And I thought his reaction when he saw me was just so cute. I mean, he looked like a little kid at Christmas. And I just uttered to him, 'You're so hot.' And he said, 'Why, thank you!' And he almost jumped into my arms. Literally. And um, that's how we met. On the corner of 61st and Park Avenue."

  • 'I Had To Sleep With Him'

    "I used to make a joke that I could have helped save the world, but I had to sleep with him. You know? It was kind of like that."

  • Falling In Love

    "I fell in love with Johnny ... He called me the next day. We talked on the phone almost every night for four hours. We met on February 21. On February 25—on the phone, from Davenport, Iowa—I fell in love with him. Head over heels in love. I was a goner."

  • Here's ... Johnny!

    "Isn't that funny? You know, when I first met him, the first week of our relationship, I said to him, 'For some reason I cannot call you John, it doesn't come out. Could I call you Johnny?' And he said, 'That's my name.' And I didn't know that, but that's his actual birth name."

  • Knight In Shining Armor?

    "I had this thing in my head like a lot of women, where you want your man to stand up on a cliff and scream, 'I LOVE HER.' You know, the knight in shining armor. And that wasn't what was going on."

  • On Her Relationship Status

    "I am not engaged."

  • Why She's Talking Now

    "I feel comfortable talking now, because Johnny went public and made a statement admitting paternity. I didn't feel like I could ever speak until he did that. Because had I spoken, I would have emasculated him. And I could not emasculate him. Also, it is not my desire to teach my daughter that when Mommy's upset with Daddy, you take matters into your own hands and fix Daddy's mistakes. Which I view as one of the biggest problems in all female-and-male relationships."

  • Not A Gold Digger

    "I mean, just for starters, I never 'hit on' Johnny. I'm not a predator, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not the stalker. I didn't have any power in that way in our relationship. He held all the power."

  • 'The Wrath Of Elizabeth Is A Mighty Wrath'

    "And I believe what happened in his marriage is, he could not go to his wife and say, 'We have an issue.' Because he would be pummeled. So he had a huge fear. Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth. He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's story line. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."

  • 'I Was A Bit Promiscuous'

    "I was never, as it's been reported, a drug addict. The word addiction means inability to stop. I stopped doing drugs in my twenties. As for being promiscuous, I would say that I was a bit promiscuous for about six months. But it was because I was partying, and there were a lot of very good-looking available 20-year-old men around that you'd be partying with, and there was a lot of, you know, hooking up going on."

  • A Toxic Relationship

    "[Elizabeth] was in denial about a lot of facts. And I say she was in denial because, you know, their relationship has been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. And she was aware of, um, problems and chose to ignore them."

  • 'I Don't Really Believe He Was A Politician'

    "Well, I don't really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he's more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn't a mistress. You know, I'm not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It's not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It's not really what he was put on the planet to do."

  • Not A 'Home Wrecker'

    "And, well, first of all, infidelity doesn't happen in healthy marriages. The break in the marriage happens before the infidelity. And that break happened, you know, two and a half decades before I got there. So the home was wrecked already. I was not the Home Wrecker."

  • Naming Frances Quinn Hunter

    "Her name is Frances Quinn Hunter, and I love the name Frances. Johnny wasn't over the moon about Frances. So I was coming up with names, and Quinn is a name that I loved, and that was the only name that he thought was cool. And so I named her Quinn because Daddy really liked it."

  • Was Andrew Young In Love With Edwards?

    "Andrew [Young] was in love with Johnny...In love with him. Beyond. And I believe he loved Johnny more than he loved Cheri. So Johnny was the third person in their relationship. And I'm sure she hates Johnny, because Andrew took a lot of obvious actions that were for Johnny and not for Cheri. But Cheri went along with them. And they both have a way of spinning things. But a lot of their motivation is money."

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