One of the year’s strangest state legislature races grew even stranger this week when the heavy favorite died unexpectedly after a night of partying with porn star Ron Jeremy. Dennis Hof, the notorious Nevada brothel owner who decided to dip his toe into politics after Trump’s presidential victory, was found dead Tuesday morning at his Love Ranch in Pahrump. He had been expected to win the deep-red district easily.
He still may.
The news was first announced by Hof’s campaign manager, Chuck Muth, who tweeted on Tuesday that he had confirmed Hof’s death with the Nye County sheriff’s deputy. Muth still expects Hof to win the race. “I feel very comfortable predicting that he is still going to win the election on November 6th,” he told Reuters on Wednesday. Nye County Commission Chairman John Koenig agrees. “I would venture to guess that there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll be elected,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think the Republicans in this town will still vote for him because they want a Republican in the chair. But I wouldn’t bet money either way.”
Despite Hof’s death, his name will remain on the ballot. Anyone heading to the polls in Nevada’s 36th district will have to choose between Hof or his Democratic opponent, Lesia Romanov. Nevada state law holds that if a deceased candidate still manages to win an election, the seat will be filled by a member of the corresponding political party. Hof was a heavy favorite in the conservative district and, as Muth explained to Rolling Stone on Thursday, his odds may have even increased, post-mortem. “A lot of the Republicans who were supporting the incumbent that Dennis beat in the primary, and a lot of the more socially conservative folks who had a hard time with the fact that he owned his own brothels, can vote for Dennis knowing that he won’t be the one actually serving and that another Republican will be replacing him,” says Muth.
Hof’s death is a bizarre turn of events in what has been a bizarre race to represent Nevada’s 36th. Backed by a motley cast of conservative political figures including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, former Trump adviser Roger Stone, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Hof defeated incumbent James Oscarson in June’s Republican primary. Labeling himself the “Trump of Pahrump” in reference his home base in Nye County, Hof used his brash persona and outsider status to invigorate the residents of what Hof described to Rolling Stone as a “very, very red, libertarian-leaning area.” According to the most recent voter registration statistics, registered Republican outnumber registered Democrats in the district by close to a two-to-one margin.
Now that Hof is dead, Muth and Hof’s two trustees — Tom Potter, his finance director, and Suzette Cole, who has managed his brothel operations for 27 years — are working to sort out how to proceed. The campaign’s newspaper and digital advertisements have been pulled, direct mail has stopped and radio spots will be handed over to the Nye County Republican Party. According to Muth, Hof’s campaign was almost entirely self-funded, so there is not a surplus of campaign funds that need to be redistributed. Muth will continue to operate Hof’s Twitter account until after the election. The profile picture now displays a dove holding an olive branch.
In answer to the big question we're being asked: If the Democrat wins on Nov. 6, Republicans will lose this seat despite a 2-1 GOP registration advantage. If Dennis still wins, then a Republican will be appointed by the 3 country commissions in the district to serve out his term.
— Dennis Hof (@ElectHof) October 17, 2018
Nevada Republicans are also pivoting in response to Hof’s unexpected passing. According to the Nevada Independent, the party, many prominent members of which had been hesitant to endorse Hof, is now waging a campaign to convince voters to cast their ballot for the late brothel owner. Though Hof’s name will remain on the ballot, polling places will display a notice that he is no longer alive. The Republican party wants to make sure this doesn’t discourage conservatives from voting for him.
Because Hof is still expected to win the election, the biggest question remaining is who will be selected to fill his seat. If he does win, his replacement would be chosen by the boards of commissioners of the three counties the 36th assembly district covers. Because Nye County is the largest of the three, their choice is expected to take precedence, according to Assembly Republican Caucus Executive Director Eric Roberts, who was interviewed by the Review-Journal.
The most common name to have been floated as a potential replacement is the incumbent, James Oscarson, but Muth doesn’t much like this idea. “If that happens, there’s going to be torches and pitchforks in the street,” he says. “The voters of that district will never stand for that. It’s definitely not what Dennis would have wanted and it’s certainly not what the voters who voted in the primary would have wanted.”
Though Hof carried Nye County in the primary, Oscarson won the district’s other two counties, Clark and Lincoln. When reached for comment by the Reno Gazette-Journal following Hof’s death, Oscarson said it is “premature” to entertain the idea of filling Hof’s seat should he be elected. During the primary campaign, Hof criticized Oscarson, a former hospital executive, as being an establishment RINO, or Republican In Name Only. Muth is worried that the Nevada Republican Assembly Caucus, which initially refused to endorse Hof’s nomination, might try to advocate for Oscarson as a replacement. “If it is found that there is any kind of serious effort to put Oscarson in that seat there is going to be a huge fight,” says Muth. “It will be a huge fight.”