Quick — what's the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the names of one of the presidential candidates?
That's the question the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center posed to a random national sample of more than 1,000 adults last week.
For Herman Cain, the first word that comes to mind is "9-9-9." OK, that's three words. But that's what people said.
For Rick Perry, the first word was "Texas," which is where he currently serves as governor.
For Mitt Romney? "Mormon."
Keep in mind, the survey was conducted last week, when newspapers and television news programs all around the country were talking about the controversial statements made by Perry's pastor, in which Mitt Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was called into question because it is, according to Pastor Robert Jeffress, a non-Christian cult. So it seems natural that the word "Mormon" would be top of mind for survey respondents last week.
The third-most often-used word for Perry: "idiot."
For Romney, the five words most often cited by respondents, after Mormon, were Healthcare/Romneycare, flip-flop/flip-flopper, good/good man and no/no way.
For Cain, the next four most often-used words after 9-9-9 were business/businessman, interesting, good and pizza. And for Perry, the next four words were no, idiot/idiotic, conservative and governor.
The Post story noted that "more than four in 10 adults do not offer any single-word descriptions of Cain or Perry. And despite Romney being well into his second run for president, more than a third do not have a word for him."
Two other stories in nationally significant newspapers use Romney's bid for the U.S. presidency as a jumping off point for thoughtful and insightful looks at the LDS religion in the public square. In the Christian Science Monitor, columnist Jonathan Zimmerman asks "Why is it OK to be prejudiced against Mormons?"
Anti-Mormonism, Zimmerman writes, is "a prejudice you can get away with. You can't be openly racist, sexist or anti-Semitic. But anti-Mormon? Go for it."
Zimmerman, a history professor at New York University, traced the history of anti-Mormonism among both conservatives and liberals from the time of Joseph Smith to the present.
"No matter what our political affiliation," he writes, "we're still mocking Mormons. Perhaps a run for the White House by Romney — or by fellow Mormon, Jon Huntsman — will shine enough light on actual Mormons to make us put aside the fears and fantasies about them."
And in the New York Times, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg examines Romney's service as an LDS bishop and stake president and looks for clues in his ecclesiastical service to the kind of president he would be. Stolberg speaks to a number of people who knew Romney as an LDS lay leader, including some who had issues with his leadership style and decisions.
Those who knew Bishop Romney and President Romney share specific examples of his work in the LDS Church. "His time as an ecclesiastical leader may have . . . opened his eyes," Stolberg writes. "Having been raised in wealth and privilege, he was now exposed to hardship and human suffering, especially among Boston's immigrant populations."