THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: PLAYERS; Favorite Son Elects to Fly With a Favorite Neighbor
Published: Wednesday, January 15, 1992

To Andy Tovrea, the pilot who shuttles Senator Tom Harkin from town to town in a twin-engine puddle jumper, the Iowa Democrat is not just another customer. And that is not because Mr. Harkin is running for President.

Mr. Tovrea grew up in the small town of Norwalk, Iowa, four miles from the even smaller town of Cumming, where Mr. Harkin was reared. Although the 40-year-old Mr. Tovrea is 12 years younger than Mr. Harkin, they both remember the early days, when politics was on no one's mind.

"He used to run around with my cousin Vince and my brother's friends," Mr. Tovrea said the other night as he guided the brown-striped Beechcraft King Air from Waterloo, Iowa, to Sioux Falls, the Senator's final stop after 12 hours of campaigning. "I went to school with all his cousins. There are a lot of Harkins."

Mr. Harkin, a onetime Navy jet pilot, described Mr. Tovrea as one of his favorite pilots. "I trust him," he said, recalling that he would see the Tovrea family every Sunday at Mass. "I always thought of him as a little kid."

As a pilot for Elliott's Flying Service, which is based in Des Moines, Mr. Tovrea has flown politicians in and out of Iowa for years -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- in their quests for votes in the state's Presidential caucuses. Since Mr. Harkin is the favorite son in Iowa, which holds the first voting of the Presidential campaign, most other contenders are not stumping there this year.

"This year, Tom's the only one I've flown," Mr. Tovrea said as he maneuvered the plane to 14,000 feet, trying to steer clear of 45-mile-an-hour headwinds. "The last election, I flew Bruce Babbitt around a lot. Oh, and John Glenn, but that was quite a while ago."

He insists he is never awed by his passengers, whether they are White House aspirants or movie stars like Kevin Costner, whom he flew around to search for locales to film "Dances With Wolves."

But Mr. Tovrea, who lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children, said he grew so fond of Mr. Babbitt that he volunteered for the former Arizona Governor's unsuccessful Presidential campaign in 1988. "I really got to like him as a person," he said. "People said he was too honest to be elected."