Pimping for Paul – Nevada brothels back the libertarian contender
In a state built on rugged individualism, Ron Paul is a major Republican player
Forget Newt Gingrich's "Winning our Future" or Mitt Romney's "Believe in America". The snappiest campaign slogan so far this Republican election season greets visitors who step across the threshold of an establishment called the Moonlite Bunny Ranch a few miles outside Carson City, Nevada.
There, in a dimly-lit world of red satin and inexpensive perfume, a cigar-chomping entrepreneur with a bald head and a smile as wide as the desert sky politely informs visitors that he and his employees intend to spend the coming months: "Pimpin' for Paul".
The entrepreneur is Dennis Hof, a reality TV star who achieved fame in Cathouse, an HBO fly-on-the-wall series which for the past decade has followed proceedings at the Bunny Ranch, one of five legal brothels that he owns in Nevada. The Paul he is pimping for is of course Ron Paul, the ultra-libertarian Congressman from Texas currently seeking the Republican nomination.
In Nevada, which holds caucuses this morning, Mr Paul is a major player. And Mr Hof is one of his best-known donors and most prolific advocates. Sitting at his desk, with a noisy Pomeranian called Gucci at his feet and a blonde who calls him "Daddy" rubbing moisturising lotion into his head, Mr Hof noted that he'd recently endorsed the Congressman on all three of America's major news networks: MSNBC, Fox News and CNN.
"Ron Paul fits perfectly with the ethos of the Bunny Ranch," he said. "He doesn't want to tell you how to live, who to sleep with, and what to do. He might not approve of prostitution, but he believes individual states have the right to choose whether to accept it. That makes him my kind of guy."
Mr Hof argues, with some justification, that legalisation prevents abuse and disease within the sex industry. He also says it provides valuable revenue to communities. All 500 of the prostitutes at the Bunny Ranch declare their earnings to the taxman. The licence fee provides $500,000 a year to the local authority. "It's legal. It's sex for sale, and it works," he says. "It eliminates the problems with prostitution. And we put millions and millions of dollars back into society."
Inside the Bunny Ranch's front door, in the reception area is a glass Perspex box, stuffed with banknotes destined for Mr Paul's coffers. Next to it is a pile of "Ron Paul 2012" leaflets. In the car park sit limousines which will provide free lifts to the caucus this morning.
Members of Mr Hof's harem work as independent contractors, setting their own fees and paying the house a 50 per cent commission. Several are currently putting all of the tips they receive from clients into the Perspex kitty.
"He is the only candidate who supports our right to do what we want with our bodies in our own lives," said Cami Parker, a Hustler magazine centrefold. She also likes Mr Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy platform. "We should bring our troops home. I'm about making love, not war."
Other colleagues offered eloquent endorsements of Mr Paul's policy. The venue's general manager, who gave her name as "Madam Suzette," waxed lyrical about his support for the rights of states over the federal government: "because that's what keeps us in business".
Jayla Conrad, 21, said she was backing Paul as "an animal lover". He is the only Republican candidate to oppose a recent federal law legalising the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
Beyond the pink brothel walls, the existence of "Pimpin' for Paul" highlights an important factor playing into today's caucus: Ron Paul's libertarian platform speaks directly to the ethos of Nevada, a quirky desert state which from the days of the Gold Rush was built on rugged individualism. Nevada has no income tax, no state income tax, and no laws to prevent you losing your shirt at the casino, while smoking. It's the only state in the US where brothels are legal. Ron Paul came second here in 2008, picking up 14 per cent of the vote to Mitt Romney's 51 per cent, and has been doggedly courting local voters ever since. He launched his economic policy in Nevada several months ago, and was in Las Vegas this week speaking to the large Latino community.
Supporters, who note that Mr Paul tends to over-perform in caucuses admit they face an uphill struggle to achieve an upset victory: Mr Romney enjoys huge support from Nevada's Mormon community, who are expected to make up around 30 per cent of voters and last time backed him by a majority of more than nine to one.
But after a string of disappointing performances, including a hammering in Florida this week, Nevada provides Ron Paul with a valuable chance to reinsert himself into the conversation.
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