An LDS filmmaker is starting a campaign to get Mitt Romney elected president that will include advertising aimed at countering the "religious bigotry" a significant number of voters hold toward Mormons.
Mitch Davis, best known as the writer and director of "The Other Side of Heaven," said Tuesday he has launched a Web site, RunMittRun.org, to raise money for television, radio and billboard advertising he wants to begin running in key primary states this fall.
Davis said he decided to do something after hearing too many times that Romney, now governor of Massachusetts, may be the best choice for president if he decides to run, but he can't win because he's a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"That's religious bigotry," Davis told the Deseret Morning News. "I think Mormons in general are more targeted because we walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If you stand up, you stand out. Mormons stand out."
Davis, a graduate of Brigham Young University who lives in San Diego, has already invested his own money in a poll of South Carolinians. One-third of the respondents said they could not vote for a member of the LDS Church for president.
The results are similar to a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters nationwide, released earlier this month. That poll found 37 percent of those questioned would not vote for an LDS presidential candidate. But the South Carolina poll went further.
Half of the respondents in South Carolina said LDS Church members don't believe in the Bible, Davis said, and 44 percent thought members of the church still practiced polygamy. One-fourth believed that Mormons aren't even Christians.
"The level of ignorance appalled me. I was embarrassed for our church and for our country," Davis said. He proposes an advertising campaign that would possibly feature prominent members of the LDS Church, including quarterback Steve Young and singer Gladys Knight.
"We just need to inform people enough to allow them to lose their native prejudices," Davis said. "We're not going to try to sell the church we're going to try to eliminate it as a negative."
South Carolina, the first Southern state to hold a presidential primary, would be considered a crucial test for Romney, because so many conservative evangelicals in the region aren't comfortable with the LDS Church. Some even consider it a cult.
Davis has created what's known as a 527 political organization to fund his effort, the same type of group as the Swift Boat veterans who attacked 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's military record.
Such independent political organizations are not affiliated with candidates. Davis said his only contact with Romney's political advisers was discussions on doing a documentary about the difficulties faced by an LDS presidential candidate.
Spencer Zwick, manager of Romney's private office, said he wasn't aware of the new organization. "What people decide to do on their own because they support a given candidate is totally up to them," Zwick said. "You can never control people."
Davis' documentary, like the rest of his film career, may be on hold as he focuses on the advertising campaign. He came to Salt Lake City to announce the new political organization, but said he doesn't intend that his effort be supported only by LDS Church members.
"The last thing in the world Mitt Romney needs to be is identified because of where the money comes from or by the advertising as the Mormon candidate," Davis said.
Romney himself, though, has leaned heavily on Utahns to fund his political-action committees.Romney spent several years in the state as head of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics before returning to Massachusetts. He raised nearly half of the money in Utah for his Commonwealth PACs used to court GOP support.