WASHINGTON -- She has mingled barefoot among Aspen's elite, stirred a Vermont utility executive to tears and bucked up disenchanted New Yorkers.

The 2012 presidential campaign is well under way for Michelle Obama, and the first lady is promising to put herself into the election effort like never before.

More than a year out from Election Day, she is hauling in millions of dollars in campaign cash and sketching a portrait of her husband that is drawn with an intimacy that no one else could duplicate.

The first lady always ends her speeches to Democratic donors with two questions: "Are you in? Are you fired up?"

It's a call to arms that the Obama campaign needs more than ever this election, when the combination of a weak economy and dampened enthusiasm for the president are creating a tougher climate for raising money.

Since mid-May, the first lady has headlined more than a dozen fundraisers for her husband and the Democratic Party, at sites from Burlington, Vt., to Berkeley, Calif.

She will cram in three more events in Maine and Rhode Island within six hours today, the last day of a closely watched reporting period for quarterly campaign fundraising.

She also has blasted out a number of mass emails to party faithful trying to recapture the energy that has waned since her husband's 2008 campaign.

"He needs you to work like you've never worked before," Obama tells audience after audience. "Every day. And that's what I plan on doing."

On Thursday the Obama campaign popped out an email from Mrs. Obama urging people to donate even as little as $3 before today's quarterly deadline to be in the running for dinner with her husband.

White House officials said the first lady's political pace will pick up in coming months with a "rigorous" schedule -- without taking too much time away from the Obamas' 10- and 13-year-old daughters.

Inevitably, family obligations mean she is not out there as much as some Democratic partisans would like for one of the party's prime assets.

At the podium the first lady is poised and cautious.

She often speaks from a teleprompter and relies heavily on her stump speech, addressing largely sympathetic audiences at closed fundraisers.

Obama surely has not forgotten the flak she caught during the 2008 campaign for her remark that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of the United States.

She later issued a clarification saying she had always been proud of her country.

While Obama campaigned for her husband's election in 2008 (and participated in 30 midterm political events) there are different dynamics this time:

--Barack Obama's day job is a lot more demanding now, forcing him to rely more on others to press the case for his re-election. During the debt crisis last summer the president had to cancel 10 fundraisers around the country. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama's schedule was unaffected.

--The first lady's popularity has remained high even as the president's has slipped. Polls show that she has broader appeal than her husband with a number of groups that could be troublesome for Obama next year, including senior citizens, whites and people in the West and Midwest.

Campaign manager Jim Messina said Obama is a unique ambassador for her husband, because of her front-row seat during his first term and her knowledge of his character. "She was an enormous asset to the president traveling the country in 2008, and we expect that she'll play just as critical a role in 2012," he said.