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Meet Nevada's 'Trump Of Pahrump'

Dennis Hof sits on a red and black velvet couch under TV screens that flash pictures of scantily clad women. Behind him, the doorbell is ringing and women in lingerie line up. Men walk in, select one of the women, sit with them at the bar and eventually head down a long hallway into bedrooms.

"We call it a meet and greet. So a customer comes up and the bell goes off and we let the girls know there's a new client in the house come out and meet him," he says, sipping on iced coffee and explaining the ways of his brothel.

This is the Republican nominee for Nevada's state assembly from Pahrump, the most populous town in a conservative, mostly rural district of southern Nevada.

You may know him from the reality TV show "Cathouse" on late night HBO that aired from 2005 to 2014. It was filmed in the brothel where Hof sits for this interview.

Signs for Dennis Hof's Love Ranch Las Vegas brothel in Crystal, Nev. in October 2015.
/ Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Signs for Dennis Hof's Love Ranch Las Vegas brothel in Crystal, Nev. in October 2015.

"You're in the world famous BunnyRanch. It's been here since 1955," he says. "We're going to put up a sign that says over 3 million serviced or a billion served like McDonald's," he says laughing. He's surrounded by women that work at one of several brothels he owns in Nevada.

There are legal brothels that are open in eight Nevada counties including Nye County, where Hof is running. Nevada allows legal prostitution in counties with a population under 700,000 people. It is illegal in Las Vegas.

Now, the self-described pimp is turning to politics.

Hof credits Trump for his victory in the Republican primary, where he unseated a three-term Republican incumbent.

"Donald Trump, he's the pioneer. He's led the way. I call him the Christopher Columbus," Hof says.

He draws a lot of comparisons to himself and the current president. He wrote The Art of the Pimp. Trump wrote The Art of the Deal.

Hof says Trump broke the mold and made someone like him, a quote 'anti-establishment' candidate palatable for office and he loves it when others compare him to the president.

"Dennis Hof is the Trump of Pahrump," Hof says. "He's rich, he's famous, he's got nerves of steel. He likes hot girls."

He continues with the list. Hof is a showman, he gives derisive nicknames to his opponents, he's known to be litigious.

And he is plagued by sexual assault allegations. His date back to 2005, including allegedly raping one of the prostitutes he employed and sexually assaulting two other women in 2009 and 2011. He dismisses the accusations as absurd.

"I'm rich. I'm famous. That attracts girls," he says, and then waves his hands toward the women at the bar in the Bunny Ranch. "I work with 500 sexually charged women that love sex. The last thing I would ever do is have to force anybody or coerce anybody to mess around with me."

Besides, he says, the accusers aged out of his dating age-range, he says. The 71-year-old typically dates women between 22 and 30-years-old.

Dennis Hof, front, at the Bunny Ranch in northern Nevada.
/ Leila Fadel/NPR
Leila Fadel/NPR
Dennis Hof, front, at the Bunny Ranch in northern Nevada.

Since this interview with NPR, yet another allegation surfaced. First reported by The Nevada Independent,Hof is now under investigation for sexual assault by the Nevada Department of Public Safety at the request of the Carson City Sheriff's Office. A woman being treated at a local hospital told a sheriff's detective that Hof had raped her.

A statement from Hof's campaign says he's cooperating fully but doesn't know the exact nature of the allegations.

"Nevertheless he completely and totally denies that any such incident occurred and believes the allegations are groundless and politically motivated," the statement said.

Despite the rampant allegations and a lack of support from many establishment Republicans — incumbent Dean Heller has refused to endorse him — Hof has a platform that appeals to his district.

"Small government, low taxes. I hate this commerce tax. I'm infuriated," he says. But asked about social issues, he said, "Well you don't bother me too much on that because I don't care who has sex with who [sic]."

Because Hof won the primary he's likely to win the district in the state assembly since this is a Republican area. Eventually he has his sights set on the governor's mansion. And he thinks he can succeed because he has unlikely allies who support him despite his business.

"The people that don't like the brothels dislike higher taxes, liars and pay-for-play politicians more than they dislike the brothels," he says.

People like evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes who runs a Christian camp in Pahrump.

"Out here in Pahrump we call it the last bastion of freedom," Fuentes says at his home. "We want the right to the land, we like our guns, we like to read the bible, we respect the constitution."

Fuentes is angry at what he calls typical politicians. He has an axe to grind over water rights on his property and is in a legal battle with the federal government. He wants Nevada's commerce tax, which imposes a levee on companies with revenues of more than $4 million, repealed. All issues he believes Dennis Hof will act on.

And that is more important than his business.

"What's the difference between one brothel owner and a liar before God?" he says. "The ladies who work for Dennis. They are not obligated. Anytime they can take off and go."

Hof's opponent couldn't be more different. Lesia Romanov is the first Democrat to run in this district since 2012. She's an assistant principal at a school in the small slice of Las Vegas in the district and it's the first time she's running for office.

Lesia Romanov at a meeting of Democrats in Pahrump, Nev. Romanov, Hof's opponent, is the first Democrat to run in the Republican district since 2012.
/ Leila Fadel/NPR
Leila Fadel/NPR
Lesia Romanov at a meeting of Democrats in Pahrump, Nev. Romanov, Hof's opponent, is the first Democrat to run in the Republican district since 2012.

On a recent evening she gets lost on the way to the meeting of Democrats in Pahrump. At the meeting, attendees ask Romanov what she's going to do about a full page ad against her in the local paper.

"Don't you and your staff need to respond to it and say he's full of whatever," Trudy Rupp, one of the women who met with Romanov, asks.

"We will get our information out to you. We're not going to respond to a lot of the information he puts out," she tells them.

Rupp looks flustered.

"I don't say you have to respond to him but you have to acknowledge this," Rupp says.

Another attendee, Diane Marie Holguin-Brooks, nods.

"Because that's basically how Trump got in. He got in by all the false advertising and all the lies," she says.

Romanov tells them she can't compete with Hof's money, the billboards he's paid for throughout town, the ads in newspapers.

"But we can compete with him on being here," she says. "Talking to the people, letting them get to know me and know that what I stand for and what I believe in is going to be a better reflection of them then he is."

"But we don't know you," Cheryl Tocco, a local artist tells her.

"You will," Romanov assures her. She says her campaign is ramping up now, has been endorsed by national women's groups like Emily's List and is fortified with volunteers from Nevada and beyond, ready to canvas neighborhoods.

Romanov says that, soon, people will know she's a single mom, an educator who wants to better the public school system and a gun owner who believes in responsible ownership.

Later, Romanov tells me that she's getting checks from as far away as New York, not because of her campaign but because people don't want Hof and people like him in politics.

"Since the primary people are putting so much faith in me and so much expectation that I feel obligated," she says.

Obligated because of what this race represents, not just to Nevada but to the whole country. She says Hof has already upset so many people, especially women, who might serve with him on the assembly if he were elected.

"He's not going to be able to get enough votes on things that he wants because he's alienated so many people," she says.

She wants to be the middle ground she says, attracting both Republican and Democratic votes.

Lesia Romanov, Dennis Hof's Democratic challenger, addresses a meeting of Democrats in Pahrump, Nev.
/ Leila Fadel/NPR
Leila Fadel/NPR
Lesia Romanov, Dennis Hof's Democratic challenger, addresses a meeting of Democrats in Pahrump, Nev.

"We were driving home from Pahrump last night and I told my campaign manager 'how did we end up here?' " she says. "I've lived this wholesome pretty straight-laced, middle of the road educator life and now when you google image me I'm surrounded by Dennis Hof and all his girls. The campaign has taken on a whole different turn. But I'm up for it. I'm strong."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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