On Monday, the Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof was laid to rest in a lipstick-red casket strewn with roses. A floral arrangement approximating the silhouettes of two mating rabbits marked his grave.
The next day, he was elected to the Nevada State Assembly.
Hof, the owner of several legal brothels including the Love Ranch and the Moonlite BunnyRanch, died in his sleep at the age of 72 on Oct. 16, four months after winning the Republican primary for his district. On Tuesday, unofficial results from the Nevada Secretary of State showed him beating Democrat Lesia Romanov with 63 percent of the vote.
The Clark County Coroner’s Office has not yet determined the cause of Hof’s death.
His victory, however unusual, was not unexpected. The sprawling district is reliably conservative, and under state law, candidates who are elected posthumously are replaced by another member of their party. After Hof’s death, his campaign manager, Chuck Muth, urged supporters to vote for him anyway, writing that a victory would send a message to “the Carson City ‘establishment’ that tried to destroy him politically.” Electing Hof would also prevent a reliably Republican seat from falling into Democratic hands, he added.
The message seems to have worked. On Tuesday, when the Pahrump Valley Times asked readers if they had voted for Hof or Romanov, one Facebook commenter responded that he had voted for Hof because “a dead Republican beats a female Democrat any day.”
Another resident offered an alternative perspective. “I wouldn’t have voted for him if he was alive, because he was NOT a man of character,” she wrote. “However, I did vote for his SEAT to be filled by a REPUBLICAN now that he is dead. I did not want a democrat in his seat.”
Being elected to office from the grave is a fitting end to Hof’s bizarre career and larger-than-life persona. He grew up in a working-class family in Phoenix and sold timeshares before buying his first brothel in 1993, then became a minor celebrity when the BunnyRanch was featured in “Cathouse,” a reality TV show that aired on HBO from 2005 to 2014. In 2015, NBA star Lamar Odom was found unconscious at the Love Ranch, which only added to Hof’s growing fame.
Hof relentlessly promoted his businesses with publicity stunts, helping a 21-year-old woman to auction off her virginity to the highest bidder; launching a 2016 campaign titled “Hookers for Hillary” that featured prostitutes who supported Hillary Clinton; and inviting O.J. Simpson to work as a brothel greeter after he was released on parole. In 2015, he published a memoir titled, “The Art of the Pimp.”
Angered by statewide tax hikes, Hof unsuccessfully ran for Nevada’s State Assembly as a libertarian in 2016. Running again on the Republican ticket in 2018, he touted himself as an advocate for small government and low taxes, and an “adamant and unapologetic supporter” of gun rights. He supported an initiative to ban sanctuary cities in Nevada, and argued that the state legislature should not be exempt from public records laws. Although he didn’t personally like abortion, he told BuzzFeed, “I don’t think anybody should ever be able to dictate to a woman how she’s gonna have to lead her life.”
But the key to his success in the rural district was his stance on groundwater. Hof advocated for conservation through a water banking system, and argued that well owners should not be forced to switch over to a water utility, writing on his website that he would work to ensure that the residents’ water rights were not “sacrificed to pave the way for large scale developments.”
The brothel owner often referred to himself as “the Trump of Pahrump,” a nickname that he said Roger Stone, an adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump and an early supporter of Hof, had come up with. (The Love Ranch is located north of Pahrump, Nev.) After his primary upset in June, in which he beat a three-term incumbent, Hof credited President Trump with making it possible for an anti-establishment candidate like himself to run for office.
“It’s all because Donald Trump was the Christopher Columbus for me,” he told the Associated Press. “He found the way, and I jumped on it.”
During his campaign, Hof frequently compared himself to the president, telling NPR that they both were rich, famous, had “nerves of steel,” and liked attractive women. He campaigned on a Trump-style slogan: “Make Nevada, Nevada Again.”
“I think people will resonate with that,” he told the Las Vegas Sun in July. “Give us our freedom. We’re about low taxes, drinking, gambling, girls and guns. That’s what this state was founded on.”
In Nye County, where Trump won with a 42-point margin in 2016, it was a winning strategy. One Hof supporter told the Associated Press in June that he had voted for the brothel owner because of the reaction that his victory would likely trigger. “It’s the same reason I voted for Trump,” he said. “I knew it would drive liberals crazy.”
In another parallel to Trump, Hof was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by multiple women. He denied the reports, suggesting that they had been politically motivated. “I’m rich. I’m famous,” he told NPR. “That attracts girls.” At the time of his death, the Nevada Department of Public Safety was investigating Hof for alleged sexual assault.
Establishment Republicans, such as Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, and Gov. Brian Sandoval, refused to endorse Hof, the Las Vegas Sun reported. But he received support from the likes of evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes, a Pahrump resident who told NPR, “What’s the difference between one brothel owner and a liar before God? The ladies who work for Dennis. They are not obligated. Anytime they can take off and go.”
Responding to reports that Republicans planned to give him a second-rate office at the state capitol if he won, Hof told BuzzFeed in September that he would just borrow Motley Crue’s tour bus and park it outside. “We’re gonna be serving liquor in there from 9 in the morning ’til midnight,” he said. “I’m gonna have qualified massage technicians – not the hookers – rubbing your shoulders and your feet while I’m trying to sell you on my idea, and if you agree with me I might take you out to the Bunny Ranch and get you laid.”
But he never got that far. Hof was found dead hours after his 72nd birthday party, a campaign fundraiser which featured guest appearances from porn star Ron Jeremy, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, and former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, as well as a phone call from Fox News host Tucker Carlson.