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Republicans have used the Democrats push for a health care overhaul to build grassroots energy and revive enthusiasm among party activists demoralized by the election of 2008. In Washington, their efforts failed to kill the bill, but conservatives say that makes the issue more powerful, motivating resistance to this White House. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: Republicans were aggressive in their rhetoric, opposing the bill before the vote, and nothing has changed since. Senator John McCain was on "Good Morning America" just hours after the House gave its approval, already looking ahead to what needs to be done.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We're going to try to repeal this and we are going to have a very spirited campaign coming up between now and November.
GONYEA: And here's Indiana Congressman, Mike Pence, yesterday, on Capitol Hill.
Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): It wasn't so much that a Republican minority lost on Sunday night. The American people lost. But this fight is not over.
GONYEA: One prominent conservative, David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, called out the congressional Republicans for putting all of their effort into killing the bill, rather than working with the White House to make the end result more palatable to the GOP.
In a widely circulated blog post, Frum says the miscalculation makes this defeat a Waterloo for Republicans. But suffice it to say thats not the conventional view on the right.
Erick Erickson runs the Web site RedState.com. He says Republicans stuck to their core principles and should be applauded. And he says there is a way forward.
Mr. ERIC ERICKSON (RedState.com): I've been telling people not to get mad, get even. We need to replace the Democrats who voted for this with Republicans.
GONYEA: The Republican Party has sent out a fundraising email featuring a bold headline against a backdrop of flames saying: Fire Nancy Pelosi. It urges people to send money so the GOP can win the 40 U.S. House seats they would need to take the speakership away from Pelosi.
Already, polls had predicted GOP gains in Congress this November, potentially big gains. But repealing the bill and starting over would require not just a GOP majority, but a veto-proof majority. That's something that not even the most optimistic Republican predicts.
Erick Erickson says if Republicans do win the House, they may not be able to repeal the law.
Mr. ERICSON: But they can obstruct it legislatively through the appropriations process.
GONYEA: But Republican political consultant Mike Murphy offers a word of caution.
Mr. MIKE MURPHY (Republican Political Consultant): My thinking is more gridlock is probably not the political answer that people want to hear about.
GONYEA: Murphy says if Republicans take the House and maybe the Senate, then it'll be incumbent upon them to offer positive alternatives. But more immediately, Murphy says, Republicans can go after Democrats even for things that the majority party considered but didn't actually do, like floating the idea of approving health care by the so-called deem and pass procedure.
Mr. MURPHY: They get a little credit for not doing it. But it's like the guy, you know, who puts a gun in your ribs and says, Give me your wallet. You take out your wallet, he puts the gun away. The Republicans definitely have a bloody shirt to wave about process.
GONYEA: Conservatives are also putting a great deal of hope in the idea that the courts could kill the legislation. More than a dozen state attorneys general have filed lawsuits. One focus will be the requirement that nearly all Americans purchase health insurance.
Andrew Langer is the president of the Institute for Liberty.
Mr. ANDREW LANGER (Institute for Liberty): No where in Article One do they talk about - Congress does not have the power to force an individual to buy a particular product in the marketplace. They can't do that.
GONYEA: But the Justice Department and many legal scholars say the law is likely to survive such legal challenges.
Ultimately, the biggest opportunity this health care battle gives conservatives may be the chance to unify their oft times divided coalition - social conservatives with one agenda, fiscal conservatives another.
Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation says that's no small thing.
Mr. MICHAEL FRANC (Heritage Foundation): Anyone running for a federal office -and even most people running for state offices - are going to be asked, are you for or against repeal?
GONYEA: And the word repeal, he said, will refer not just to the health care bill, but to the entire Democratic agenda.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.