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Perry describes 'long love affair with guns'

NBC's Carrie Dann

Iowa Rep. Steve King (left) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (right), who is running for president, went pheasant hunting in Iowa Saturday.

MERRILL, Iowa -- Rick Perry often waxes eloquent about his wife Anita as the love of his life, but today in Iowa he disclosed to journalists another "long love affair" that has affected him since he was young.

With guns, that is.

"It was a long love affair with a boy and his gun, that turned into a man and his gun, that turned into a man and his son and his daugher and their guns," an orange-and-khaki-clad Perry said of his relationship with firearms before a pheasant hunting trip in northwestern Iowa.

Perry, who took questions from reporters before the shooting expedition with Iowa Rep. Steve King, called family hunting "part of America" and said that teaching children the safety and the mechanics of firearms is "one of the great American traditions."

The Texas governor also addressed yesterday's announcement by President Obama that all troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by 2011, repeating his accusation that the White House's decision was "a political statement" rather than smart military policy.

"This administration has signaled, telegraphed its intentions all too often and that's just not acceptable," he said.

But Perry declined to offer specifics about how many troops he thinks should remain in Iraq. "Putting a hard number on it without having sat down with the commanders and know what all the implications are for troops is not an appropriate thing to do," he said.

Asked about a testy exchange with Mitt Romney on the issue of illegal immigration during last week's debate, Perry repeated his assertion that Romney was a part of the nation's illegal immigration problem when undocumented individuals worked on his property.

"Mitt stands back and makes statements about criticizing Texas for how they've had to deal with an issue," he said, "[when] the federal government and people like himself are the problem."

Perry next heads to a campaign event in eastern Iowa and then on to a forum in Des Moines, with a busy schedule that means he won't have a chance to see his beloved home team play Iowa State University today.

And he was quick to say who he's rooting for.

"I'm for the Aggies. I don't get confused about who I'm for," he declared to reporters. "I'm not going to be one of those people who roll into Iowa and say, 'Oh I'm for the Cyclones, because I'm runnin' for office. People see through that pretty good."

*** UPDATE *** Andrea Saul, spokesperson for Romney, passes on this response: 

"Rick Perry is a desperate candidate resorting to negative personal attacks because his campaign is collapsing. If anyone has an illegal immigration problem, it’s Rick Perry. In Texas, the illegal immigration population is up 60%  over the past decade, far surpassing California and Florida, and 40% of new jobs have gone to illegal immigrants in the past three years.  While Rick Perry thinks a border fence is 'idiocy' and that people that don't support in-state tuition for illegal immigrants 'don't have a heart,' Mitt Romney supports a border fence and vetoed an in-state tuition bill as governor.”