First lady Michelle Obama, whose unfavorability rating is 19 percent, may be a more valuable election-cycle visitor to competitive districts than the president, whom forty-five percent of the public views unfavorably. 

While campaign appearances by the first lady have been limited — she did appear with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) at two events in early June — advisers say their volume is likely to grow, especially to encourage women to support the president in 2012. His approval among women has dropped from a high of 72 percent in February 2009 to 51 percent.

"I expect to get some direction from the political team in the coming weeks about the larger strategy and from there we will be able to make some informed decisions about how she can be most helpful," FLOTUS' chief of staff told the New York Times in a piece published Sunday.

Michelle Obama has in the past few weeks sent two e-mails to the 13 million members of the president's campaign organization, including one that asked for signatures on a virtual card for his Aug. 4 birthday.  

Advisers say the president, meanwhile, may actively keep his distance from heated races. Many Democrats say their challenge this fall is drawing strength from the successes of Obama's agenda without invoking him directly.

Others criticize him for what they call a top-down political approach that emphasizes White House and Democratic National Committee decision-makers.

"I think much of the House is in a wait-and-see mode to see how helpful the president will be," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has said. "He has to come into these districts with the same gusto and the same sense of hope that he came into the election with."