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“There is a gamble going on with both sides here,” Ms. Bender said. “Democrats have made the decision that caving on total repeal is not worth it; electorally, the cost of doing that is probably too high.”

Mr. Lombardo said Republicans in Congress stand to gain some short-term tactical advantage by forcing votes on the issue.

“That may end up being smart, especially when large segments of independent voters oppose the health care legislation,” he said.

But Mr. Lombardo also warned that too much harping from Republicans could obscure broader party themes such as improving the economy, creating jobs and lowering the national deficit.

“If the health care repeal law becomes the definition of this Congress, the defining element of this Congress, I think that’s problematic” for Republicans, he said. “If they don’t begin to demonstrate that they’re going to listen to voters in doing things on the economy, it has the potential to backfire.”

As for Mr. Manchin, his moderate polices and frequent criticism of the Obama administration during his 2010 Senate campaign - most notably his opposition to “cap-and-trade” emissions trading proposals that are unpopular in coal-friendly West Virginia - may protect him from Republican attacks, Mr. Fortier said.

“You got to think that in some ways he’s inoculated himself against this,” he said. “He’s just ran in a Republican year and won convincingly, and he certainly has staked out he’s more to the right than others who have run in other years.”

Democrats likely will have more opportunities to solidify their positions on health care reform, as GOP leaders in the House and Senate have vowed to force more votes to amend or repeal the law.

“This is just the beginning,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said minutes after his party lost its attempt to repeal the law. “This issue is still ahead of us and we will be going back at it in a variety of ways.”