When you’re campaigning to become the president of the United States — and spending much of your days discussing the nation’s biggest problems and why you’re the best person to solve them — there isn’t much time to relax.
But when Sen. Elizabeth Warren can find even an hour to herself, she is all about her family.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate took a break from a busy weekend on the trail in Iowa, which will kick-off the Democratic primary with Monday night’s caucus, to sit down with PEOPLE.
She talked about some of her campaign musts, some of her most memorable moments, what she misses and the ways she’s able to find peace and quiet (and a little sense of home).
When she isn’t shaking hands with voters, debating the other candidates or in the Senate in Washington, D.C., the 70-year-old progressive lawmaker says she loves to curl up on the couch with husband Bruce Mann and their dog, Bailey — though even the TV doesn’t quite let her escape her reality as one of the country’s most well-known Democrats.
“Kate McKinnon is fabulous,” Warren says of the Saturday Night Live star who has been playing her in the sketch show. “In fact, I’m thinking of adding this to my pitch to voters — ‘Elect me president and we’ll get eight more years of Kate McKinnon.’ “
Watching an hour of TV on the couch with her family is one of her favorite ways to wind down: Warren in the middle, Bruce on her left and Bailey (a star in his own right among her supporters) on her other side.
“It’s relaxing,” she says. “That’s hard to do on the road.” And a hotel room is often a poor substitute.
“Most of the time Bailey’s not with us,” she says. “And Bruce is often not with me. And when we watch it in a motel room, we don’t have the shows we’ve saved, so I miss the TV.”
Guilty pleasures are also few and far between. The last time she indulged herself, Warren tells PEOPLE, was when she got her nails done with her granddaughters on Christmas.
There are small ways Warren stays connected to the comforts of home back in Massachusetts: She carries her Pond moisturizer and her favorite hand lotion with her and, yes, sometimes Bailey is able to go on the trail. (During Warren’s recent PEOPLE interview, he was “catching a little beauty rest” on the campaign bus.)
And when Warren can’t be somewhere, Bailey sometimes goes in her place, like when she was in D.C. during Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
On the trail, Warren says that voters often sneak notes into her hand while she’s doing meet-and-greets and her popular “selfie lines.” It’s some people’s only chance to catch a politician’s attention directly.
One mother introduced her daughter, the senator remembers, and then after Warren and the girl pinky-promised, the mom whispered a request in Warren’s ear as they walked away: “Please protect us on health care. My daughter has brain cancer.”
“They’ll just leave a note in my hand, and I stick it down in the pocket of my sweater,” Warren says of the people she meets. “The notes are about pieces of their lives and how they need a government on their side. The notes are about how they believe that we can build something together that works for everyone.”
The last year, she says, has made her a better candidate after time spent in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere. “It’s not just my showing up and telling people what I’m fighting for, it’s having them talk about what it would mean in their lives,” she says. “And had I thought about this part of it? And how about this other part? And make a suggestion to make it better and explain why a particular approach might not work.”
She tells another story, of a woman who recently drew Warren a picture and cried when they met, telling Warren that she had just buried her mom that week in a T-shirt emblazoned with “Nevertheless, She Persisted.”
The slogan — originally an admonishment of Warren by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — has become a feminist catchphrase.
“It has changed me forever to know how many millions of people across this country are determined to build a better world,” Warren says. “It’s my job to help lead that pack, and I know I’ll never be alone in it.”