WASHINGTON - Dispensing from her fund of valuable political capital, Michelle Obama is criss-crossing the United States with a single objective - slaying the familiar foe haunting Democrats in mid-term elections: low turnout.
The still popular first lady can reach parts of the electoral battleground that her husband cannot, because his tattered approval ratings after nearly six years in office make vulnerable Democrats loath to be seen with him.
But Obama is tireless in her defense of her husband's political record ahead of the November 4 vote - in which his Democrats are in grave peril of losing the Senate.
'That's my man'
Traveling below the national media radar, Michelle Obama has spent days on the road, campaigning for candidates in recent weeks in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin.
"That's my man, yes indeed," Obama said Friday, firing up a crowd in Boston, reminding voters that when her husband took office in January 2009, America was deep in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Even a family milestone could not keep the first lady - who once disliked political rallies but who became expert at them during two presidential campaigns - off the campaign trail.
"It just happens to be our 22nd anniversary today," she said on Friday.
"And this is how important these elections are to us. I might not even see him today, because I am on the road and he is on the road because these elections are so important." Polls show Michelle Obama's approval ratings are still rock solid - above 65 percent - much higher than those of her husband (who languishes in the low 40s) but also better than those of former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
Pressing on with her well-honed stump speech, which borrows some of the best lines from her husband's rhetoric on the falling unemployment rate, Michelle Obama is playing a vital role in stirring up enthusiasm among Democratic voters.
Her role is all the more important because her husband is largely confined to an endless succession of fundraising events, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars that will fund the Democratic Party's advertising blitz in the run up to election day.
That is critically important because decades of polling data shows that Democratic voters never match the high turnout of presidential elections during the congressional votes that follow two years later.
"You do you have a Republican advantage in midterm cycles," said Thomas Schaller, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland.
"The Democratic voter base is generally of a lower socio-economic status, lower income, younger voters and this voter base tends to vote at lower rates when the presidency is not on the ballot." The first lady is starkly warning Democrats not to fall again into their regular pattern.
"When we stay home, they win," she said, referring to Republicans who are counting on Democrats being unable to rebuild the political coalition, heavy in African American, Hispanic, young and female voters who backed her husband in 2008 and 2012.
"A lot of people were shocked when Barack won because they were counting on folks like us to stay home," Obama said.