Over at the Spine, Marty Peretz writes about the struggles of Martha Coakley, Democratic candidate in the special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. (Marty called this one a while ago.*) And the news is indeed alarming, according to Public Policy Polling:

The massive enthusiasm gap we saw in Virginia is playing itself out in Massachusetts as well. Republican voters are fired up and they're going to turn out. Martha Coakley needs to have a coherent message up on the air over the last ten days that her election is critical to health care passing and Ted Kennedy's legacy--right now Democrats in the state are not feeling a sense of urgency. ... Scott Brown's favorables are up around 60%, a product of his having had the airwaves to himself for the last week. By comparison Bob McDonnell's were at 55% right before his election and Chris Christie's were only at 43%. ... This has become a losable race for Democrats- but it could also be easily winnable if Coakley gets her act together for the last week of the campaign. Complacency is the Democrats' biggest enemy at this point and something that needs to be overcome to avoid a potential disaster.

Losing Kennedy's old seat to the Republicans would, obviously, be an emotional blow. But it would be potentially devastating to health care reform. Remember: that the Senate bill passed with exactly sixty votes, just enough to break the united Republican filibuster.

But the Senate isn't finished yet. It will have to sign off on the final compromise between its bill and the House's version. That, too, will require sixty to break the inevitable Republican filibuster. And if Kennedy's old seat passes from Paul Kirk, the Democrat who now holds it, to Scott Brown, the Republican seeking it, it's entirely possible the Democrats will no longer have sixty votes.

What then? Unless I'm mistaken, the Senate cannot rescind a vote it's taken. In theory, then, the House could simply take the bill that passed the Senate in December and approve it without modification. But that'd be far from optimal: The Senate bill has a lot of problems.

Politico's Ben Smith explains the other possibility:

Get it through between the time the polls close and the new Senator is sworn in.

Senator Paul Kirk, currently in the seat, told reporters today he would vote for a health care bill even if Massachusetts voters elect Brown.

“Absolutely,” Kirk said, according to the State House News Service, when asked if he’d vote for the bill, even if Brown captures the seat. “It would be my responsibility as United States senator, representing the people and understanding Senator Kennedy’s agenda and the rest of it."

Any delay in the certification and swearing in of the new senator would provoke a massive partisan battle, but it's apparently imaginable.

Translation: The political theater would be ugly, either way.

*My alter-ego was sucking up to Marty today and I didn't want to look bad by comparison.

Update: I changed "absolutely devastating" to "potentially devastating," although Capitol Hill sources I consulted seem seriously concerned about this.