The Orange County Democratic Party Monday night endorsed David Benavides for Santa Ana mayor in the November election, the first time in recent memory that a challenger to longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido won the Democrats’ official backing.

Pulido had withdrawn his request for an endorsement shortly before the meeting, so the tally overwhelmingly favored Benavides. Thirty-four voted to back Benavides, while only three voted against it.

“The momentum continues,” said Benavides, who also recently won the Orange County Labor Federation’s endorsement. “Clearly Miguel Pulido has lost his grip on the city of Santa Ana. People are excited about a new day.”

Before the meeting, party Chairman Frank Barbaro had asked Benavides not to seek the endorsement and, in exchange, Pulido wouldn’t either, Benavides said. The challenger, also a Santa Ana city councilman, rejected Barbaro’s offer.

Barbaro is loyal friend of Pulido. In 2010, there were accusations that Barbaro had rigged a tight party vote for a Pulido endorsement against challenger Alfredo Amezcua. Party members erupted in anger at the meeting, and afterward the rules were changed to require a roll call vote.

The skirmish demonstrated that Pulido has for some time been losing traction within the party.

Even without the party endorsement, however, Pulido will likely still have the benefit of Barbaro’s fundraising. The Orange County Victory Fund, a political action committee controlled by Barbaro, had spent tens of thousands of dollars in 2010 to assure a Pulido victory against Amezcua.

Neither Pulido nor Barbaro attended the meeting.

Some Democrats said that they voted for Benavides because it was time for a changing of the guard in the city, a theme that Benavides trumpeted during his speech to the party.

“There are few times in our life when we take action on something historic,” Benavides told the crowd.

Mani Kang, a party member from Orange who also voted to endorse Amezcua in 2010, agreed.

“Miguel Pulido is not concerned anymore. He’s lost touch with the community,” Kang said.

A majority of council members recently voted to place a mayoral term limit on the November ballot and are supporting Benavides in a full-scale council rebellion against the mayor. Councilman Sal Tinajero has called the revolt a “Santa Ana Spring,” a reference to the Middle East uprisings that have toppled some dictators.

In another notable endorsement, the party voted 21-11 to back Rancho Community College District candidate Mark McLoughlin over Claudia Alvarez, a termed-out Santa Ana councilwoman who is Pulido’s only remaining ally on the council. The 21 votes were just enough to make the 60 percent threshold required to earn the nod.

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