By Catherine Bremer
PARIS (Reuters) - Dominique Strauss-Kahn, once a favorite to be the next French president, came home on Sunday to an expected icy greeting from party allies after a legal odyssey in New York that reshaped France's political landscape.
His long-awaited homecoming marks the end of a long struggle through New York's criminal court system nearly four months after he was pulled off a plane by police, accused of attempting to rape a Guinean maid in a luxury hotel suite.
Days after New York prosecutors dropped their case against him, the former head of the International Monetary Fund was being showered with applause at the fund's office in Washington D.C., where he apologized to his one-time staffers.
But Strauss-Kahn is unlikely to get the hero's welcome in Paris, where his reputation has suffered badly despite initial shouts of joy that he would avoid prosecution in a legal system widely seen in France as too hasty and too harsh.
The discomfort is most palpable in the Socialist Party, which is gearing up for a primary in October after reconfiguring itself around two leading candidates in the run-up to France's presidential election in April, 2012.
A day before his homecoming, Socialists were maintaining an uneasy silence about his future role, and public attention in France was more focused on the upcoming trial of former president Jacques Chirac.
Many Socialists had already distanced themselves from the one-time presidential front-runner, reflecting widespread distaste for his reputation as a womanizer even in a country known for tolerating adultery among politicians.
Francois Hollande, the leading Socialist candidate, has spoken vaguely of a role for Strauss-Kahn in the election with no mention of a ministerial post. Rival Martine Aubry, also the party's leader, was similarly equanimous this week when she told Canal+ television that she agreed with other women when it came to Strauss-Kahn's attitude toward the opposite sex.
Of his closest allies, Pierre Moscovici, a former Socialist minister, has dropped him to become campaign coordinator for Hollande. Veteran leftist Jean-Christope Cambadelis is backing Aubry.
Former Socialist prime minister Michel Rocard, taking a shot over the bow for which he later apologized, said on Monday that Strauss-Kahn "has a mental illness ... He's out of the game."
Adding to his troubles, Strauss-Kahn still faces a civil case in New York and an accusation of attempted rape by a woman 30 years his junior in France.
Despite a few cold shoulders Strauss-Kahn -- a finance minister under Jacques Chirac and a key architect of the euro project -- is widely seen playing some kind of role in the forthcoming race, likely in an advisory capacity.
An opinion poll published last weekend suggested that about two-thirds of French voters do not wish to see Strauss-Kahn take a government role if the Socialists take power in next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
The Ifop poll, conducted on August 25-26, following the dropping of criminal charges in New York, nonetheless showed that about half of pro-Socialist respondents would be happy to see him take up a ministerial post.
As a first overture to the French public, Strauss-Kahn is expected to grant television and newspaper interviews explaining his behavior before the case and addressing concerns about what is widely seen as a problematic rapport with women.
Arnaud Montebourg, another contender in the Socialist primary, said Strauss-Kahn should apologize to party colleagues and voters like he did with IMF staff in Washington D.C.
"He should make the same gesture after the toll we have all had to bear in this affair," Montebourg told iTele TV this week.