WHEN REPUBLICANS DISCOVER A REASON TO CARE ABOUT THE HOMELESS…. As a rule, when Americans slip between the cracks and end up homeless, conservative Republicans aren’t especially troubled. If a problem can’t be fixed with a tax cut, they figure, then it’s probably not worth worrying about.

But in Arizona, conservative Republicans have suddenly taken a great interest in a few people who live on the streets — who can be exploited in a partisan campaign scheme.

[D]rifters and homeless people were recruited onto the Green Party ballot by a Republican political operative who freely admits that their candidacies may siphon some support from the Democrats. Arizona’s Democratic Party has filed a formal complaint with local, state and federal prosecutors in an effort to have the candidates removed from the ballot, and the Green Party has urged its supporters to steer clear of the rogue candidates.

“These are people who are not serious and who were recruited as part of a cynical manipulation of the process,” said Paul Eckstein, a lawyer representing the Democrats. “They don’t know Green from red.”

In one example, Republican operative Steve May recruited Benjamin Pearcy to run for a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees public utilities, railroad safety and securities regulation. Pearcy strums a guitar on the street in the hopes passersby might chip in.

In another, May recruited Thomas Meadows to run for state treasurer. Meadows has less than a dollar to his name, spends his days reading tarot cards.

The NYT noted, “Complaints about spurious candidates have cropped up often before, though never involving an entire roster of candidates drawn from a group of street people.”

Bob Cesca raises a very good point about all of this: “My question is: Why? If the climate is so batshit crazy that Jan Brewer will likely be re-elected, why in the world would they need to engage in this sort of thing?”

Quite right. Arizona is a “red” state where Republicans are supposed to do awfully well this year. If some GOP scam artist is having to recruit drifters and the homeless to run for key offices, are Republicans in Arizona feeling less confident about November than they’re letting on?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.