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PHILADELPHIA—President Barack Obama challenged wavering members of his party on Monday not to give in to political fears about supporting health care legislation, asserting that the urgency of getting a bill through Congress should trump any concern about the consequences for Democrats in November.

In a high-octane appearance that harkened back to his “yes we can” campaign days, Obama jettisoned the professorial demeanor that has cloaked many of his public pronouncements on the issue, instead making an emotional pitch for public support as he tries to push the legislation through a final series of votes in Congress in the next several weeks.

With the fate of his signature initiative on the line, and Republicans eager to portray Democrats as out of step with the country and incapable of governing, Obama seemed to relish the opportunity to cut loose and make his case on his terms, as he often has at pivotal moments. And, with his back to the wall, he appeared intent on reassuring his party that he is as confident as ever in his powers to explain, persuade and capture the politics of the moment.

Appearing before 1,800 students and other members of the public at Arcadia University, just outside of Philadelphia, Obama cast himself almost as an outsider in Washington, expressing disdain for “the sport of politics” and saying the time for endless debates is over.

“They’ve warned us we may not win,” Obama said of his doubters and critics. “They’ve argued now is not the time for reform. It’s going to hurt your poll numbers. How is it going to affect Democrats in November? Don’t do it now.

“My question to them is: When is the right time? If not now, when. If not us, who?”

Obama asked, “How many people would like a proposal that holds insurance companies more accountable? How many people would like to give Americans the same insurance choices that members of Congress get? And how many would like a proposal that brings down costs for everyone? That’s our proposal.”

Obama also took aim at those who have warned that the health push could cost the Democrats their majority in the November elections. He alluded to letters he has received from cancer survivors and others who have been priced out of the health care market.

“What should I tell these Americans?” Obama said, to raucous cheering. “That Washington’s not sure how it will play in November? That we should walk away from this fight?”