Why Nevada voters elected a dead brothel owner

"It's kind of like Moses."

Dennis Hof died last month, but the brothel owner is expected to be elected to the state legislature Tuesday anyway. (CREDIT: Bobby Bank/Getty Images)
Dennis Hof died last month, but the brothel owner is expected to be elected to the state legislature Tuesday anyway. (CREDIT: Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

PAHRUMP, NEVADA — Thousands of voters in Pahrump, a town of about 36,000 people an hour or so outside Las Vegas, cast their votes Tuesday for a dead man.

Dennis Hof — the notorious brothel owner who used to call himself the “Trump of Pahrump” after his hometown, and who wrote an autobiography called The Art of the Pimp — died last month. Yet for reasons ranging from party loyalty to local water issues to personal love for the man, voters in his hometown said they plan to elect him anyway.

Chuck Muth, Hof’s campaign manager, said Election Day is “bittersweet.” He told ThinkProgress he see Hof’s likely win Tuesday night as a celebration of Hof’s life.

“It’s kind of like Moses,” Muth said Tuesday. “He’s not going to make it to the promised land with us… but we hope he’s watching from the great beyond.”


Before he passed away at the age of 72, Hof built a campaign on small government, supporting the Second Amendment, and Trumpian immigration issues. But the issue that the area’s voters said Tuesday was most important to them — and about which they wanted to send a message — was water.

“We don’t want a Democrat!” Pahrump voter Karen Russell said, as her husband Bruce Russell simultaneously explained he was going to vote for a dead man Tuesday by saying, “Because we want to make sure and get a Republican in!”

The couple laughed at their jinx moment, before Karen added, “I’ll tell you the real reason: Because of our water.”

Hof made water issues central to his campaign, vowing to push for legislation that would bring the federal government to enter into talks with Nevada “to negotiate equitable and commensurate compensation for this ruined resource” after years of nuclear testing at a nearby nuclear facility has contaminated the local water supply.

Hof also wrote on his website that he supported a water banking system to conserve water, and would work to ensure that the “domestic well use rights of individual well owners are not sacrificed to pave the way for large scale developments.”

Hof voter Harley Kulkin. CREDIT: Addy Baird
Hof voter Harley Kulkin. CREDIT: Addy Baird

Harley Kulkin, another Hof voter, echoed the Russells. “Dennis was very passionate about that,” Kulkin said of water issues. But Kulkin, like many other voters in the district Tuesday, also said simply that he had been excited to vote for Hof for a long time and wanted to cast his ballot for him — dead or alive.


“Frankly, I don’t really look at a person’s party. You know, I’m just a working guy, a blue collar guy, and I look a person who I feel shares my same values… and I thought that he was 100 percent there,” Kulkin said. “He certainly wasn’t into it for the fame. He wasn’t into it for the money. He was a very attentive listener, and he was very concerned about the issues that we have here.”

Should Hof win Tuesday’s election, as he likely will, considering the Republican voter registration advantage in the district, it will be up to the commissions of the three counties the district covers — Nye, Clark, and Lincoln counties — to pick a replacement, as ThinkProgress reported last month.

Hof’s campaign manager Chuck Muth suspects that this development is actually more likely to propel Hof to victory. Muth told ThinkProgress Tuesday that some Republican voters in the district are still upset following the contentious primary race, or remain put off by how Hof made his money.

But at least in Hof’s hometown, the prospect of the county commissions appointing the person who will fill the seat is a source of frustration.

Neil Gross, a retiree and Pahrump resident, said he’s among the crowd that didn’t approve of how Hof made his money, but liked the fact that he wasn’t a career politician.

“We needed a businessman to straighten some of the politicians out. That’s why I voted for Dennis,” Gross said. Now, however, he’s anticipating the county commissions will appoint someone “who will be a politician,” Gross said. “And I’m not happy.”

Voters in Hof’s hometown loved that he was, well, Dennis Hof — it wasn’t about the fact, as a number of Parumpians told ThinkProgress, that he was a Republican.


Perhaps it’s simply that no one wants to speak ill of the dead, but in Pahrump Tuesday, even the voters who cast a ballot for Hof’s Democratic opponent Leisa Romanov had little to say about the late candidate.

Colleen Landy, 69, and Diana Bentley, 67, said they voted for Romanov.

Colleen Landy (L) and Diana Bentley (R). CREDIT: Addy Baird
Colleen Landy (L) and Diana Bentley (R). CREDIT: Addy Baird

“I like Dennis as a person,” Landy said, before Bentley cut in, adding, “But not as a politician.” Landy echoed her friend: “But not as a politician.”

“He’s very outspoken. He’s very forceful, and I think with Trump being in office, we don’t need anymore of that. We need to have somebody that’s more level headed and think about things more,” Landy said.

But, again, Landy reiterated, she liked Hof outside of the political sphere quite a lot. One of her best friends, she told ThinkProgress, was a longtime madam at one of Hof’s brothels, and Landy said she thought highly of him as a businessman and boss.

“Dennis is very respected in this town. He’s a nice guy,” Landy said. “I mean, he was a nice guy. But he just doesn’t belong in politics.”

UPDATE: Hof officially won the seat in the legislature on Tuesday night, defeating his Democratic opponent. He had an 36 point lead over Romanov after the initial batch of ballots were counted, according to the Reno Gazette Journal, an advantage that ended up being insurmountable.