Several Democratic operatives, members of Congress, and powerful figures in the “resistance” movement, say Cecile Richards’ next move after departing Planned Parenthood should be to run for office.
Richards is planning to step down as president of Planned Parenthood after more than a decade in the role, BuzzFeed News reported last week. So far, Richards has been vague about her plans for the future, but immediately after the news of her departure broke, Twitter exploded with speculation and excitement over whether her exit — and the upcoming release of her memoir, titled Make Trouble, which is due out in April — was a sign of a future candidacy.
Multiple Democratic officials and longtime campaign hands told BuzzFeed News this week they share that hope.
At a women-centered State of the Union event Tuesday night, dubbed the “State of OUR Union,” Richards gave her first public speech since confirming her plans to leave Planned Parenthood. Throughout the event, Richards’ future was whispered — and sometimes shouted — about by attendees and fellow speakers alike.
“I wondered if she was running for office, I was going to ask her tonight,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington State told BuzzFeed News backstage. “She would be an amazing candidate if she wanted to run.”
“Fuck yeah she should run for office!” Alicia Garza, a cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement and one of the main organizers of Tuesday’s event told BuzzFeed News. “We’ve basically made a whole plan for her campaign without her.”
California Rep. Barbara Lee, who spoke with Richards after Tuesday’s event, told BuzzFeed News that she would “love to see [Richards] run,” and that if she did, Lee was “sure that she would win and that she would be great.”
Some Democrats, including Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Kaine, told BuzzFeed News that they would never tell Richards “what to do,” but Booker said he thought Richards would be an “extraordinary elected leader.”
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood told BuzzFeed News in a statement that “Cecile’s devotion to women’s rights is far from over, and she has made clear that she will continue to be a voice and advocate for women and girls in the US and around the world,” but that she has “no plans to run for office.”
The spokesperson added the release of Richards’ book will give her the opportunity to meet “with women and young people in communities across the country to encourage their participation in the fight for justice and equality for all.”
Richards is no stranger to the campaign side of politics. She worked alongside her mother, the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, on Democratic campaigns in Texas as a teenager, before running her mother’s successful 1990 gubernatorial campaign. Before joining Planned Parenthood, Richards also served as deputy chief of staff for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Four well-known Democratic political operatives told BuzzFeed News they thought Richards would make an excellent candidate, but were less decided on what she would be best suited to run for, given her ties to Texas and current residence in New York.
Veteran New York campaign consultant Hank Sheinkopf — who worked with President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others — told BuzzFeed News that he thought Richards should run in California or New York, to “help set the national agenda on women’s health discussion or even act to attract the flack from abortion opponents.”
Basil Smikle, a political consultant and former executive director of New York State Democratic Party, said he thought Richards would be particularly “great” as a candidate for US Senate in “red or a purple state.”
“But it’s not really a question of quality, it’s a question of opportunity,” Stu Loeser, Mayor Bloomberg’s former press secretary, said, explaining he didn’t see a plausible upcoming seat for her in New York, which of course already has two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor.
But Loeser said that launching a successful campaign in her home state of Texas was “not inconceivable” in the future. The deadline to file to run for office in Texas this year passed in December.
Paul Begala, a Texas-raised political consultant and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said in an email to BuzzFeed News that he thought Richards would make a “formidable” candidate wherever she might run.
“She is both principled and charming, which is a powerful combination,” he said. “I suspect even voters who disagreed with her would respect her for her convictions. She would be what’s been called a ‘conviction politician,’ which, sadly, is a rare species.”
An earlier version of this post misspelled Sen. Cory Booker's name.