Presidential candidate John Edwards said Monday it's silly to suggest that his wealth and expensive tastes have hurt his credibility as an advocate for the poor.

"Would it have been better if I had done well and didn't care?" Edwards asked.

Edwards noted that some of the most acclaimed anti-poverty advocates came from privileged backgrounds, including Franklin Roosevelt and Bobby Kennedy.

"You could see and feel the empathy they had," said Edwards, speaking from his home in North Carolina during an interview on Iowa Public Radio.

Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, has made poverty a central issue of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and recently released a book on the subject, "Ending Poverty in America." He also has formed a center for the study of poverty issues at the University of North Carolina.

His credibility on the issue has been challenged by critics who point to his 28,000-square-foot home in North Carolina and his $400 haircuts. He rejected the criticism, saying a look at history shows that personal wealth doesn't disqualify people from advocating for the poor.

"It feels a little silly to me," Edwards said. "This is an issue I care deeply about."

Edwards is the son of a mill worker who achieved wealth as a trial lawyer.

The mission of his campaign is to ensure that all Americans have a chance for such success, he said.

"It's just where my heart and my passion are," said Edwards, adding that his emphasis on poverty issues resonates with activists, because few other candidates focus on the issue.

"The reality of poverty is a very complex thing," said Edwards. "One problem compounds the next problem."