Tarryl Clark (photo: MN AFL-CIO)

Long-shot races against polarizing incumbents could become one of the newest routes for young politicians to fast-track their political careers, if Democrat Tarryl Clark’s recent political two-step pays off.

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN-06) is one of the most extremely polarizing figures in politics. Parts of the Republican base love her, and, with an equal level of passion, parts of the Democratic base despise her. This high level of passion on both sides turned last year’s race between Bachmann and Clark into one of the most expensive races in the country. Both candidates raised huge amounts on the internet from their grassroots. All this fundraising was in spite of the fact that the partisan leaning of the district and the political climate of 2010 made it highly unlikely Clark would win.

Even though defeated in 2010, Clark may benefit heavily from this failed race next year when she takes on Republican Chip Cravaack in the likely more competitive 8th district. Thanks to her race against Bachmann, Clark will have built up name recognition among the important activist base, and a huge donor email list she can directly contact for this next election. That will be a massive asset for her that, in addition to making fundraising easier, could scare away potential primary challengers.

I don’t think Clark actually planned this exact move, few in early 2009 would have guessed long time Democratic incumbent Jim Oberstar was going to lose the 8th, but, if it works out well for Clark, it could become a model for future politicians.

In addition to the Bachmann-Clark race, the instant fundraising success both Joe Wilson (R SC-02) and his Democratic opponent, Rob Miller, had in a safe GOP district right after Rep. Wilson’s “you lie!” outburst shows that the internet now allows politicians to instantly financially tap into bursts of intense emotion and very brief moments of press exposure. Blogs have made it possible for these long-shots running against partisan villains to get more national press exposure; that was unthinkable a decade ago.

With fundraising coming to dominate the process of running for office, and the internet now making it easy to tap into partisan anger, we could see some clever politicians actively trying to use this two-step.

Step one: Run a race you know you are going to lose against a polarizing figure to build an email list and name ID, and bank some leftover campaign funds.

Step two: Two years later use what you built to run for a different office that is actually competitive.