Barack Obama heads to Massachusetts to face a challenge of epic proportions: He must renew the campaign of the Democrat whose victory or defeat will determine whether the president’s party will maintain it’s 60-seat majority in the Senate.

The question is whether Obama is “fired up and ready to go.”

Is he ready to speak and act in a manner that energizes the Democratic base as he did in 2007 and 2008 when, at points when his presidential campaign was struggling, he renewed its vigor and promise with the “fired up!” call?

Obama moved gingerly over the past week to help elect Democrat Martha Coakley in the suddenly-competitive January 19 special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat that was held for 46 years by Obama’s friend and supporter Ted Kennedy.

But Obama is giving some indication that he may be getting over the caution — and the fantasy of bipartisan compromise — that has so undermined his presidency.

“Let me tell you something, if Republicans want to campaign against something by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have,” Obama said as he prepared for a Massachusetts appaearance that has grown increasingly critical to his political position and governing agenda.

The president was never going to make a big, high-profile swing through Massachusetts, a state he won with ease in 2008. Instead, relied on targeted phone calls and web campaigning to aid Coakley.

The final call on whether to send the president to Boston was made after a review of late tracking polls, which were analyzed to determine whether an appearance was needed to help the embattled Democrat — or, to be more precise, to determine whether a presidential visit would help or harm Democratic prospects.

With turnout for the special election expected to be very low, there are more than a few Democratic strategists who fear an Obama visit might do more to energize conservatives who will vote for Republican Scott Brown than liberals who have been somewhat disappointed by Coakley’s cautious campaign – and, when it comes to issues of war and peace and health-care reform, very disappointed in the president.

But the call was made late Friday to put Obama in the state, which is actually a positive sign for Coakley. It means the White House thinks she can win, and that it is worth risking some of the president’s political capital to close the deal.

In the meantime, Obama has taped a web video and phone calls that will be targeted to the homes of friendly voters.

Here’s what the president says:

Hi, this is President Barack Obama. I rarely make these calls and I truly apologize for intruding on your day. But I had to talk to you about the election in Massachusetts on Tuesday because the stakes are so high.

In Washington, I’m fighting to curb the abuses of a health insurance industry that routinely denies care. I’m fighting for financial reforms to stop Wall Street from playing havoc with our economy. I’m fighting to create a new clean energy economy and it’s clear now that the outcome of these and other fights will probably rest on one vote in the United States Senate.

We know where Martha Coakley stands. As your attorney general, Martha has taken on Wall Street’s schemes, insurance company abuses and big polluters on your behalf. She represents the best progressive values of Massachusetts. She‘ll be your voice and my ally.

But a lot of people don’t even realize there is an election on Tuesday to fill the unexpired term of Ted Kennedy. They don’t realize why it’s so important. So please, come out to vote for Martha Coakley. And make sure everyone you know understands the stakes for their families, Massachusetts and our country.

Obama really does not like to do “robocalls,” which many voters find annoying — and which are not exactly presidential. And he avoided getting personally involved in special elections during his first year in office.

But Democratic concerns about the Massachusetts contest are mounting, and for good reason.

Massachusetts has not voted for a Republican for the U.S. Senate since Richard Nixon was in his first term as president, so there are still a good many pols who cannot believe Coakley — the state’s Attorney General — could really be in trouble.

The polls have been all over the place, with some conducted in the last week suggesting that the Democrat is comfortably ahead and others placing her in a dead heat with Brown. One late poll actually put Brown narrowly ahead. Two generally well-regarded DC-based political analysis operations, the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report, have changed their rating of the race to “toss up.”

A Coakley defeat would not merely be embarrassing.

It could deal a blow to Obama’s health-care reform agenda.

Republican Brown, a state senator, has been running a right-wing populist campaign in which he notes that his election could rob Democrats of the 60th vote they need to secure health-care reform.

That sort of talk has energized conservatives and in a low-turnout election, motivated conservatives and disengaged Democrats could conceivably turn the very blue state of Massachusetts temporarily red.

Coakley is still very much in the running.

She got her wake-up call early, and Democratic party operatives and unions have been mobilized to drag voters to the polls for the candidate. They’re spending heavily, taking shots at Brown, bringing former President Bill Clinton in to rally the troops and now calling the president into battle.

“It’s an important Senate seat. That is why the president is going,” declared White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Friday.

Gibbs was at pains to emphasize that the Massachusetts contest should not be seen as a referendum on Obama’s presidency. “We’re not on the ballot,” the press secretary said.’

But that’s absurd.

Obama’s record is a major factor, not just with conservatives but with liberals, who have grown increasingly disenchanted with the president.

With that in mind,Democratic insiders are also doing something smart, for a change. They are reaching out to progressives who did not back Coakley in the Democratic primary.

Progressive Democrats of America, which has a strong presence in western Massachusetts, backed Coakley more aggressively progressive and populist primary challenger, Congressman Mike Capuano, is contacting all its members with a letter from the state’s most outspoken anti-war congressman, Jim McGovern.

In it McGovern writes:

As the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts tightens up, we need to make certain that a large progressive vote comes out and supports Martha Coakley.

I supported Mike Capuano in the Democratic primary, in large part, because he shared my strong opposition to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mike ran a good campaign and I was proud to be with him.

I’m also proud to be with Martha.

She is opposed to the War in Iraq and to the administration’s Afghanistan policy. Her opponent, a Bush-Cheney clone, favors both wars and supports the U.S. Military escalation in Afghanistan.

Right wing money from all over the country is pouring into Massachusetts to defeat Martha. The far right wants not only to put one of their own in the U.S. Senate–but also to win the seat that Ted Kennedy once had. They are hoping to discredit Ted Kennedy’s legacy–a legacy dedicated to peace and justice.

If we are ever going to stop needless wars, we must elect more like-minded people. That is why it is so important that we elect Martha Coakley.

There is so much at stake. Please call your friends. Send emails, hold a sign or do whatever you can to get Martha elected on Tuesday, January 19th.

Elections do matter; and this election matters more than most. Thanks for your help. I am grateful for all that you do for Massachusetts and the country.

With friendship,

Congressman Jim McGovern

The McGovern letter is an important piece of the puzzle for Coakley’s campaign. As PDA director Tim Carpenter notes, Massachusetts is not just a Democratic state, it is a generally progressive state — especially on a host of national issues. And many progressives have been disappointed by Obama’s moves to surge more troops into Afghanistan and to advance a cautious health-care reform proposal.

McGovern, a leading critic of the Afghanistan surge and an ardent backer of real reform, is the right man to speak to disenchanted Democrats — and, the Coakley camp certainly hopes, to get them to the polls on Tuesday.