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The congressional debate officially kicks off Tuesday, when Adm. Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on ways to let acknowledged gays wear the uniform.

Mr. Gates and Adm. Mullen have not publicly endorsed repeal. They have urged the White House to move carefully as military personnel deal with the stresses of war deployments. The Washington Times reported in November that Gen. James T. Conway, Marine commandant and Joint Chiefs member, has spoken forcefully in opposition to repeal in closed-door discussions.

Dani Doane, who handles House relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said she thinks Mrs. Pelosi can generate the votes needed for repeal, partly because of support from some moderates who are retiring and are not worried about re-election.

“It may be the only potential big win for them, so they would need the boost going into November,” she said. “I think the Senate is a bigger problem.”

Rep. Patrick J. Murphy, Pennsylvania Democrat, is the leading sponsor of the repeal bill.

Elaine Donnelly, who directs the Livonia, Mich.-based Center for Military Readiness and favors an outright ban, said she doubts his proposal has enough support.

“Assessing Democrats who voted the right way on related issues, such as hate crimes, Patrick Murphy does not have sufficient votes to pass his bill,” she said. “We do not believe that there is sufficient support on the full committees, either. An attempted floor vote end-run around the committees is always possible, but given the political shift since Massachusetts, [conservative congressional] Blue Dogs and sensible members on both sides of the aisle will be reluctant to vote for a [gay rights] law for the military.”

But Kate Hansen, Mr. Murphy’s spokeswoman, said, “If repeal comes to the floor, we are confident it will pass.”

Concerning Mr. Skelton’s opposition, she said, “Rep. Murphy holds Chairman Skelton in the highest regard and believes he is an outstanding leader for [the House Armed Services Committee], but clearly disagrees with his opposition to repeal, and he has continued to round up support from his colleagues to overturn this discriminatory policy.”

The Times contacted the offices of leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of moderate and conservative Democrats, but did not get a response.

The military has expelled more than 13,000 service members under “don’t ask, don’t tell” since 1994, an average of fewer than 1,000 annually from the 1.46 million active force.

Some trends are working in favor of Mr. Obama, who reiterated his pledge to end the ban in last week’s State of the Union address.

Public opinion polls have shifted since 1993 and now show that most Americans support allowing gays to serve openly in the military. No conservative grass-roots efforts have emerged to retain the ban, as was the case in 1993.

Some military surveys show that most service members favor the prohibition.

Mr. Obama must find enough votes to overturn existing law. Mr. Clinton needed only to change a regulation.

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