SALT LAKE CITY – Supporting Mitt Romney for president, Mormon filmmaker Mitch Davis has launched a political group and plans an advertising campaign to counter the religious bigotry he says a significant number of voters hold toward members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Davis, writer and director of "The Other Side of Heaven," has created what is known as a 527 independent political organization, named after the tax code number that covers such groups.
He said Tuesday that 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, who is in Utah this week to meet with potential donors, said he decided to do something after hearing too many times that the Massachusetts governor could not win the presidency because is a Mormon.
"I think Mormons in general are more targeted because we walk the walk, not just talk the talk," he said. "If you stand up, you stand out. Mormons stand out."
Davis hired California pollster Gary Lawrence, also a Mormon, to assess attitudes toward Mormons in South Carolina. That state's presidential primary could be a key test of the religious issue and Romney's ability to overcome it.
In a telephone poll of 600 registered voters July 6 through 10, Lawrence Research found that 44 percent of that state's voters believe Mormons still practice polygamy and 27 percent believe they worship church founder Joseph Smith.
"If I believed what most Americans do about Mormons, I couldn't vote for a Mormon either," Davis said.
For his ads he hopes to recruit prominent Mormons such as quarterback Steve Young and singer Gladys Knight.
He envisions his radio and television ads as being "hip, funny and smart" — and gentle.
One possible script would have football coaches talking, and asking "Could a Mormon be a quarterback?" as Young sat on the bench in the background.
Spencer Zwick, a Romney aide who serves as finance director of Romney's Commonwealth PAC, 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 said Romney, who has not declared he is a candidate for president but has been raising money, is aware of his efforts.