Dateline follows Michele Bachmann's Christian far-right campaign to be US President, assheattracts extremes of both adoration and outrage.
The US elections may still be a year away, but the fight for the White House has already begun. And with Barack Obama's popularity waning, Republicans are pumped over the possibility of this being a one-term Presidency. And there's one candidate who thinks she has a better chance than the rest, claiming she received a call from God to run the country. Michele Bachmann is an ultra-conservative member of the Tea Party whose star is on the rise. David O'Shea has been in Iowa where Bachmann and the other Republican hopefuls have been 'strutting their stuff'.
REPORTER: David O'Shea
The Iowa fair is a showcase of the biggest, and best, of everything the state has to offer, not least its culinary delights, like this year's new favourite, deep fried butter on a stick.
WOMAN: Oh my goodness, it's really good.
But it's not all fun and fine food at the fair. As the 2012 election cycle kicks off, it's also a political battleground. Iowa is a swing state that went to the Democrats in the last election, now, the Republican Party is determined to win it back.
REPORTER: They tell me you got heckled a bit this morning - was that uncomfortable?
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PARTY: Part of the business, part of the business.
Mitt Romney is here to press the flesh. He's seen as a promising candidate to become Republican Party leader. But Romney had better watch his back. There's another candidate in town.
MICHELE BACHMANN, REPUBLICAN PARTY: Hi everybody. My name is Michele Bachmann and I want to be the next president of the United States of America.
Michele Bachmann has burst on to the Republican campaign, and I follow her for the last frantic week, as she makes appearances with her husband - across the state - before the Iowa Straw Poll.
MAN: Ladies and gentleman with your help please welcome the next President of the US, Michele Bachmann.
Though she represents the state of Minnesota in Congress, Bachmann was born in Iowa and she milks the home ground advantage.
MICHELE BACHMANN: There is no cooler place in the United States than Iowa. Because we are serving notice that, President Obama, you will be a one-term President!
Bachmann is a key figure in the ultra conservative Tea Party movement, made so popular by Sarah Palin. They are anti-Washington, small government crusaders, whose far-right agenda will bring radical change, if Bachmann becomes President.
MICHELE BACHMANN: It's a money eating machine in Washington DC and I say its time to dismantle the machine.
Slashing government spending is only one of her promises. She'll cut taxes, abolish social services and do away with Obama's newly introduced Medicare.
MICHELE BACHMANN: I have a core set of principles. That's what we need in a President - someone that has a core set of principles and then a demonstrated record of acting on them.
She has also promised to close down the Environmental Protection Agency and even the Department of Education. And as an evangelical Christian, she will continue to fight abortion and gay rights. It's a platform that's inspiring plenty of supporters.
SUPPORTER: I love her honesty. I can trust her to do what is right every single time.
SUPPORTER 2: She is great and I am British. I come from Manchester. I worked for Margaret Thatcher and I think she is absolutely fantastic.
REPORTER: What is it you like about her?
SUPPORTER 2: She is conservative. She believes in hard work. She believes in fair banking. She believes in less tax - vital - she needs to get America reworking
SUPPORTER: Pro-life, she's got the same values I have.
SUPPORTER 3: She's down to earth.
SUPPORTER 4: I just think she would be a terrific president. She's a fighter and she really believes in what she is doing and she was a Tea Party person before there was a tea Party.
SUPPORTER 5: Everything about her - Her pizzazz, her charisma, you know.
On the national stage, Bachmann's candidacy is getting a more critical examination. Bachmann started out in Minnesota state politics in 2000, where she fought to ban same sex marriage. She became a federal Congresswoman in the last election.
SPEAKER ON PRESIDENRIAL DEBATE: My question, Governor. Is she unqualified or is she just leading you in the polls?
GOVERNOR: She has done wonderful things in her life, so many wonderful things, but it's an undisputable fact that in Congress, her record of accomplishment and results is non-existent. That is not going to be good enough for our candidate for president of the US.
Her republican rivals may argue she's unprepared, but to the evangelical Christian right, she's a maverick Godsend.
MICHELE BACHMANN: We should never be ashamed or afraid of the faith that this nation was founded upon. I thank God for the religious faith that my parents taught to me. I thank God for what he has done. God has mightily put his hand a blessing upon this nation. We can never think that we did this ourselves. It was an almighty God that gave this to us and to Him we owe honour and praise and blessing.
Critics say if Bachmann does become president, her God will be calling the shots.
BILL PRENDERGAST, AUTHOR: She may be the first American political candidate for the presidency that claims to have had a divine prophetic vision of the future sent to her by Jesus Christ himself and that is such a sign of the off the wall nature of this candidate.
Minnesota based author Bill Prendergast has been tracking Bachmann's rapid rise with concern.
BILL PRENDERGAST: Her rejection of western ideas and culture - it's like pre-renaissance, pre-enlightenment and she is kind of proud of that. We have entered a new era in American politics - the idea that a person like that could be taken seriously.
REPORTER: But what is wrong with that if a good percentage of the American people think like her?
BILL PRENDERGAST: About 500 years ago, Europe and America and the west kind of gave up on the idea that there was a direct supernatural pipeline to God, where he is going to tell you what to do via his representatives on earth. We sort of gave up on that idea and Bachmann, and more importantly, the national movement behind her, want to bring that back. They want to use it as a supervening authority. So that's a very important change, a radical change to my country.
Bachmann has called homosexuality, 'personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement'. Her husband, Marcus, has used the word 'barbarians'. He runs a Christian counselling clinic in Minnesota, which offers to 'pray away the gay' or 'cure' homosexuals of their illness.
BILL PRENDERGAST: All of a sudden, she was the go-to person for the Christian right in this state and here, she is being interviewed by an out of state Christian ministry about the wonderful job she is doing fighting gay marriage.
Prendergast was so worried about the off-the-wall things the Congresswoman was saying, that he tried to convince local Minnesota reporters to print them, but failed.
BILL PRENDERGAST: It got to the point where the newspapers here in Minnesota were so reluctant to print the extremism stuff that we were collecting - I mean these are Bachmann's claims - things she has said. Not the things that were said about her that I started publishing comic books with illustrations and pictures and names and dates things that she said and I had local artists illustrating them like political cartoons just to get them into print.
This issue looks at the topic that first brought Michele Bachmann an audience outside Minnesota.
BILL PRENDERGAST: There she is targeting gays. Realising she has a big idea that if she goes after gays, then that's a hot issue. She claims that Jesus asked her to run for various political offices - Barack Obama is down with the bad guys.
REPORTER: Were you were doing this because you had a particular interest in gay rights?
BILL PRENDERGAST: No. I have a particular interest in how Hitlers and Mussolinis get started. You know, you start out by targeting a minority.
VENDOR: Who's selling the best? Lot of Bachmann are selling and this Palin one is selling crazy and some of the ant- Obama ones are really popular down here too.
Back in Ames, Iowa - its Straw Poll day and Bachmann's supporters are praying for victory.
WOMAN: Hi! I love Michele Bachmann because she stands for what she believes in and she doesn't back down and she doesn't twist in the wind.
WOMAN 2: She understands. She has run a business. She and her husband have built a business. She knows how to turn it around and if America continues to tank, it affects the rest of the world including Australia. So you guys need to support Michele Bachmann to help America get back on track again. She knows how to do it.
Perennial crowd favourite Sarah Palin, who has not decided yet whether she wants to run for President, drops into the Iowa fair and steals the limelight.
MAN: She is better looking than Barak Obama, she would be the best looking President we ever had.
REPORTER: What about Michele?
MAN: Yeah, she's pretty good too - I can't say too much my wife is standing here.
The big question is whether Bachmann can achieve what Palin has and turn her grass-roots support here into a national base. Bachmann's campaign manager knows she'll have less appeal to voters outside God-fearing Iowa, but says her core beliefs are not about to change.
ED GOEAS, CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I don't think you would find a fibre in her body that would be apologetic about having as deep a faith as she has. It's been key to her life, she found a Jesus, as she likes to talk about, when she was 16 or 17. It's been a key part in many of the things she has done.
REPORTER: Has she had any divine revelations lately?
ED GOEAS: It's not a matter I mean you can kind of make fun of make comments like that it's deeper than that.
REPORTER: But she has in the past?
ED GOEAS: Yes, but as you saw tonight on the explanation, her terminology and making fun of that terminology or twisting that terminology or someone who doesn't understand or come from that context certainly can look at it that way, but it was actually a kind of positive belief that she had.
MICHELE BACHMANN: So join me, I am headed over to the voting booth right now. Many of you have still not voted. Come with me, I am going over to the voting booth to cast our vote. I am asking for your vote for President of the US and take your voice to the white house. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. I love you all. I love you.
If nothing else, the non- binding Ames Straw Poll is an indicator of organisational strength. It can convince people to keep sending funds and provides momentum to a campaign. Past winners, like George Bush, have gone on to become president.
SPEAKER: And the winner of the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
This win is a promising start, but she still has a long way to go to convince the Republican Party that she can beat Barack Obama, and that her extremist views won't alienate the mainstream. From here, Bachmann will travel across 50 states, trying to inspire middle America to follow her on a divine path to the White House.
MICHELE BACHMANN: You've done it Iowa, thank you. God bless you! God Bless America!
BILL PRENDERGAST: The press in the US used to take pains to screen the kooks out of American politics, so she should be congratulated for leaping over that hurdle. The idea that being a political extremist and kook floating conspiracy theories is no barrier to a shot at the presidency of the United States.
YALDA HAKIM: David O'Shea reporting. And since the Straw Poll in Iowa, the evangelical governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has started making inroads into Michele Bachmann's conservative support base. And with Sarah Palin still waiting in the wings, it looks like being a fascinating race for the White House. On our website this week, David O'Shea tells us about the incredibly tight media management surrounding Michele Bachmann's campaign. You can also tell us what you think of Bachmann's views and the American presidential race in general. Just join the debate at sbs.com.au/dateline.
Original Music composed by Vicki Hansen
4th September 2011