The advice sounded genuine, if a bit more paternal than collegial. Del. Thomas E. Hutchins (R-Charles) urged the small group of Charles County Republican Central Committee members, seated around an oval boardroom table, to nominate a person willing to make tough votes. Someone with a similar political philosophy to his own, he suggested, and not a single-issue candidate.
"It's your process," said Hutchins, whose seat the nominee would take.
The doors shut, and the deliberations began. Hutchins headed back to Annapolis. The handful of people awaiting the committee's decision were sent outside to bide time in a parking lot filled with cars still bearing bumper stickers from last fall's GOP campaigns.
Two hours later, a victor -- D.C. police veteran, lawyer and defeated state's attorney candidate W. Louis Hennessy -- emerged from a narrow 3 to 2 vote. In the days since, party infighting has ensued: Hutchins is poised to recommend that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) reject the committee's choice, and committee members are stunned by actions they say are undermining their role.
"[The committee] had the chance to rise to the occasion of the most important function . . . to make the choice that would be acceptable to people across the county," said Hutchins, who recently was nominated by Ehrlich to become the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. "I don't know if Mr. Hennessy is going to be that acceptable or not. I know of a lot of people I believe were more qualified."
Central Committee members said they don't understand where the delegate is getting his facts. "I'm absolutely floored," said Central Committee vice chairwoman Vivian Castello. "Lou Hennessy, as far as we were concerned, he was more than qualified."
The five committee members who voted Tuesday night -- Castello, Wade Compton, Joe Crawford, Carolyn Lees and Lew McIntyre -- have declined to reveal whom they individually endorsed. The outcome was decided by multiple rounds of secret ballots that eventually winnowed the field from 14 applicants to just a handful.
However, several members offered insights into why Hennessy prevailed. Though he lost his bid for state's attorney last November, party members said they were impressed that he netted 49 percent of the vote in his first political race.
They also touted his professional experience. Hennessy, 47, is a 25-year veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, where he attained the rank of captain before retiring and was in charge of the homicide squad in 1994 and 1995. He was credited with helping to sharply increase the department's homicide case closure rate while the number of killings declined during his tenure.
Meanwhile, he took night classes at the University of Maryland to earn his bachelor's and law degrees and has become well-respected among other defense lawyers and some prosecutors.
"He's a quick study," said Central Committee member Lees, who served as Hennessy's political activities director for his state's attorney campaign and was considered one of his biggest supporters on the Central Committee. She gave his campaign $650, including a $500 check a day before the election.
"He's well-known nationally as well as in the Washington area," she said. "He would do really well in the legislature."
Chairman Ernest L. Wallace said Hennessy's nomination also would have important ramifications for the Republican Party in Charles County. He has the potential to bring a more youthful, fresh voice to the party, Wallace said.
Hennessy impressed many in the county's African American community during the campaign season, particularly with his performance at the NAACP forum.
"We've got the potential here to have an up-and-coming young Republican who for the next 20 years could really make contributions to the county and party," Wallace said. "It was a little bit of thinking outside the box."
Hutchins said he had thought County Commissioner Wm. Daniel Mayer (R-La Plata) had the best shot at succeeding him, given the commissioner's proven voter approval. Mayer, who was on Ehrlich's transition team, had signaled to the Central Committee his interest in the job. Privately, he told people he expected to get it, several sources said.
On Friday, Mayer said he is satisfied remaining a commissioner, though he believes he fits the qualifications for the delegate's office. He said he had talked to the governor on a range of issues in the past weeks but never assumed the job would be handed to him.
"I'll let the process take care of itself," he said. "I wholeheartedly support the governor of our state, and if the governor wants me in Annapolis to further the causes of Charles County, then I will go."
Maryland's constitution gives the governor 15 days to sign off on the committee's decision or ask for more names. Hutchins expects to relinquish his office after the state Senate vote -- now scheduled for Feb. 3 -- on confirmation for the Cabinet position.
Calls to Ehrlich's staff regarding the governor's plans were not returned.
For his part, Hennessy said he is now "just waiting" to hear from Ehrlich. He may lobby on his own behalf, but "I'm not going to do any good ol' boy politicking to get it," he said.
Hennessy learned of his selection about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, he said, when a conference call from several Central Committee members woke him up.
In his application for delegate, Hennessy took stands on a number of state issues, including his support for putting slot machines at Maryland horse racing tracks and his preference for a balanced budget. Hutchins also is an advocate for using slots to fuel the state's budget.
But that tie is overshadowed for the delegate by what he sees as a lingering stain from Hennessy's candidacy last fall. Hennessy became the most notable candidate associated with the large Freedom4Nancy group, though he insisted he had no affiliation with the organization dedicated to supporting a woman convicted of child abuse.
He came under criticism for attending the group's meetings and visiting Nancy Jean Brookbank in prison.
Hutchins, who attends the same church as Hennessy, said the divisive, heated issue took away from the more important issues of that race.
"The guy's got tremendous credentials, but there's a cloud there," he said. "I think people are worried that he won't be inclusive."
If Ehrlich asks his new Cabinet member for an opinion, Hutchins will respond, "I think you ought to ask for someone else," he said. "If he asks me, I definitely will say that."
That harsh stance perplexes Hennessy; he and Hutchins never have spoken to each other about politics at length, he said.
Echoing a theme from his campaign for county prosecutor, Hennessy said: "My political, philosophical approach is, I'm here for everybody. Everybody is going to be treated fairly, not just a chosen few."