TALLAHSSEE, Fla. (AP) -After spending nine years in the NFL chasing quarterbacks, former Baltimore Ravens star Peter Boulware pursues another challenge Nov. 4 when he seeks an open seat in the Florida Legislature as a Republican in a strong Democratic district.
Boulware, 33, hung up his cleats in 2006 after seven surgeries on his shoulder and knees and returned to Tallahassee, where he was an All American defensive end for Florida State in the mid-1990's.
Although Republicans believe they can pick up an historic Democratic seat with Boulware, it won't be an easy race - even for a former Seminole star in the state's football-crazed capital.
He is running against Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a well-known local attorney and community college instructor in a predominantly Democratic district that has never elected a Republican.
And with a bankrolled, well-known Boulware in the contest, Democrats have pulled out all the stops to keep the seat. Boulware raised nearly a half million dollars, more than twice what his opponent will spend.
We're not taking anything for granted,'' Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.When you put a bunch of money into that race it can become competitive.''
Boulware, who has a degree in management information systems, announced his candidacy in September 2007 and has been walking the streets and neighborhoods of his district since in hopes of persuading Democrats he is best suited to help them.
From what I've seen in the Legislature in order to be effective you have to work as a team,'' he said.You take a football locker room. Coach (Bobby) Bowden was able to take 100 athletes from all around the country, rich, poor, black or white and bring us together and win on the football team. It's the same thing in the Legislature, to come together for the common good.''
Vasilinda, whose husband Mike is a prominent Capitol television reporter who also runs a video production company, has started running ads reminding voters that she's a Democrat and Boulware's a Republican.
People aren't so worried about Democrat or Republican, they're really more worried about the person,'' said Boulware, who had 70 sacks in an NFL career that also produced a Super Bowl championship in Baltimore.What you stand for, what you do and how you're going to help the district.''
The daily newspaper that serves District 9, the Tallahassee Democrat, endorsed Boulware on the basis that the local Democratic delegation has been virtually neutered by the Republican domination of the Legislature and that Boulware would have a seat at the tables, especially when it came to helping state workers.
Boulware also picked up the backing of Fred Varn, a well known local politician who served on the city's school board for several years before resigning to run for the House. Varn, however, was ousted from the Democratic primary after failing to complete his resignation paperwork on time in order to run for the House seat.
But Democrats are fighting back: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and the local congressman, U.S. Rep. Allan Boyd, endorsed Vasilinda - who has been a state employee for more than two decades - along with the previous holder of the seat, Loranne Ausley, and Tallahassee Mayor John Marks.
The local Democratic Party released voting records that show Boulware voted in only one election since registering in 2003.
A partner in a local Toyota dealership, Boulware said he had his hands full with a new business and three small children (and a fourth on the way) and had never given politics a thought when he retired from the NFL.
And neither had his parents, who recall their son as ``very shy and quiet'' during his school days in Columbia, S.C.
Total shock,'' said Melva Boulware.No way. Now how. Peter always wanted to do well, but didn't want to draw attention to himself.''
A former Seminole player, John Davis, mentioned to Boulware in the spring of 2007 that he should consider politics. Boulware initially dismissed it, but then was told by other friends and his wife, Kensy, that he might have what it takes to succeed in the political game.
Boulware, whose father Raleigh is an oncologist in Columbia, S.C., describes himself as a social moderate and fiscal conservative.
The reason I'm here is because my mom and dad taught me values,'' Boulware said.The key to success is the family. Mom and dad being there for their kids.''
Boulware was the third of four children. Older brother Raleigh Jr. played football at Georgia Tech and is now an engineer in Atlanta, sister Kala is a psychiatrist in Knoxville, Tenn. and younger brother Michael is with the NFL Minnesota Vikings.
Boulware shares some of the sentiments instilled in a family where mom and dad were registered Democrats.
I can make a difference for people who really can't help themselves,'' Boulware said.I can be their voice.''
But first he's up against an opponent about half the size of those who tried to keep him away from NFL quarterbacks.
And it's just as tough,'' Boulware said about his latest challenge.Just like football. You have to study, work hard and do your best to be ready for game day.''