Republicans face possible risk in healthcare repeal

* Republicans seek to ‘repeal and replace’ law

* Poll shows surge in support for healthcare reform

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - Republican lawmakers vowed on Tuesday to try to repeal President Barack Obama’s landmark U.S. healthcare overhaul but a new poll suggested they may run the risk of a voter backlash in advance of the November election.

In fact, Democrats dared Republicans to move to rescind the measure that Obama signed into law earlier in the day. [nN22224563]

“I don’t see how they standup at a town-hall meeting and say they favor repeal of a law that prohibits insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions,” said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.

Gallup released a poll that found longtime opposition to the plan had turned to support, 49 percent to 40 percent. That may ease Democratic concerns as they near the November congressional elections.

“Passage of healthcare reform was a clear political victory for President Obama and his (Democratic) allies in Congress,” Gallup wrote.

Earlier in the day, 12 Republican senators introduced legislation to rescind the healthcare law. “This fight isn’t over yet,” said Senator Jim DeMint, chief sponsor of effort.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell did not sign on to DeMint’s bill but said the party would campaign to repeal.

“The slogan will be ‘repeal and replace,’” McConnell said, acknowledging that the public has favored some of the new reforms, such as ones to make healthcare more accessible and the insurance industry more accountable.

There has been bipartisan agreement on some provisions, such as prohibiting insurance companies from dropping people from coverage when they get sick.

But there is opposition to others, such as tax hikes and cuts in the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly to help pay for it.

A repeal, however, would wipe out the entire law.

In an effort to drum up public support, Democrats have been highlighting popular provisions set to take effect this year, such as tax credits to small businesses to buy insurance for employees and a change allowing young people up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies.

Democrats hope this helps them stem anticipated big losses to their majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Congressional analysts said Democrats and Republicans would be wise to focus their campaigns not on healthcare but the weak economy, which promises to be the key issue on Election Day.

“Voters are ready for the healthcare debate to go away,” said Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling.

“One of the reason they have been so upset with Democrats is that they believe they have had their priorities wrong -- having spent the past year on healthcare rather than the economy,” Jensen said.

Gallup’s nationwide telephone survey of 1,025 adults, conducted on Monday, found that 49 percent of respondents said it was a “good thing” that the measure won final congressional, while 40 percent said it was a “bad thing.”

Gallup said Democratic respondents backed the bill, 79 percent to 9 percent, while Republicans opposed it by about the same margin and independents were split.

“Whether these groups’ views on the issue harden or soften in the coming months could be crucial to how healthcare reform factors into this year’s mid-term election,” Gallup said.

Editing by Bill Trott