ORONO — Michelle Obama put women’s voting power at center stage during a Democratic campaign rally in support of gubernatorial candidate Rep. Mike Michaud at the University of Maine on Friday night.

The first lady was joined by Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund, in an appearance that highlighted Democrats’ efforts to turn out women and young voters this fall.

Obama spent her 20-minute address discussing how to overcome a traditional weakness for Democratic candidates: getting their base to vote in a year with no presidential election. She told the crowd of 1,500 people – mostly women and young people – to volunteer for the campaign.

“You need to step up and get everyone you know out to vote,” Obama said. “It will be that ground game that will make the difference. On election night, when the results are coming in, I want you to look back and know you did everything you could to get Mike elected. Because the stakes this year are so high.”

Michaud is in a tight race against Gov. Paul LePage. The Republican’s campaign has been bolstered by two visits from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is considered a 2016 Republican presidential contender.

Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen didn’t address the first lady’s appearance directly, choosing to criticize President Obama and Michaud instead.

“President Obama isn’t coming to Maine, but Congressman Michaud still can’t run from his record of rubber-stamping the president’s unpopular agenda,” Sorensen said in an email.

A poll done last month on behalf of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed Michaud leading LePage 40 percent to 38 percent, with independent Eliot Cutler drawing 12 percent. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

Also at Friday’s rally was Emily Cain, the Democratic candidate in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. The University of Maine graduate is running against Republican Bruce Poliquin. The UNH poll showed Cain trailing Poliquin by 10 points in the relatively conservative 2nd District.

Before coming to Maine on Friday, the first lady was in Massachusetts campaigning for Democratic candidate for governor Martha Coakley. Next week, she will campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Wisconsin and Illinois.

It’s the first extended campaign swing for either of the Obamas this election season.

Democrats have largely kept their distance from the president, whose decline in popularity nationwide threatens to harm the party’s candidates.

The first lady remains more popular than her husband, especially among women – a crucial voting bloc for Democrats in Maine.

According to Gallup’s tracking poll, Michelle Obama’s approval rating has been holding steady at around 66 percent. She is viewed favorably by 92 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of women.

Last month’s Maine poll mirrored national sentiment for President Obama, with 52 percent disapproving of his performance, including 47 percent of women.

Mobilizing women to vote has been a focal point of this election for Maine Democrats. In July, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, “When women vote, Democrats win.”

According to the September poll, 89 percent of Maine women said they would vote in November, barring an emergency, compared with 76 percent of men.

That could be good news for Michaud, who has the support of 43 percent of likely female voters, including undecided voters. Only 34 percent of women supported LePage in the poll, and 16 percent went to Cutler.

Interest among women appears to be an indication that the Democrats and allied interest groups have been effective in raising women’s issues, from family planning, to the right to choose abortion, to raising the minimum wage.

Planned Parenthood’s Maine Action Fund has pledged to spend at least $500,000 to elect Michaud as governor.

Richards, the fund’s president, who has a background in organized labor, said “the stakes are sky high” this fall. She spent her time at Friday’s rally highlighting Michaud’s candidacy.

In her home state of Texas, Richards said, Gov. Rick Perry has cut funding for family planning, which has caused clinics to close. “We don’t need a governor who is going to put his own personal interest ahead of a woman’s right to access health care,” Richards said. “We don’t need it in Texas and we certainly don’t need it in Maine. There is a clear contrast in this race for governor.”

Richards also hailed the Affordable Care Act, saying, “Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition in this country.”

“There is no way we can turn back that progress now,” she said. “That’s why we need a new governor in Maine.”

Dressed in a charcoal pants suit, Michelle Obama took the stage to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” She embraced Michaud several times near the podium. They raised clasped hands above their heads before Michaud left the stage.

Noting Michaud’s background as a mill worker, she described Michaud as a “decent, honest, hardworking man” who is the best candidate for working families.

“Mike understands what’s at stake in people’s lives,” Obama said.

The first lady, who defended the president’s record on health care and the economy, reminded the audience about her husband’s historic victory in 2008, when he overcame big money by turning out new voters, especially women, minorities and young people.

Then she described what happened during the 2010 midterm elections, a wave year for Republicans, including in Maine.

She noted that Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial election was decided by only 9,800 votes, which she said was only eight votes per precinct.

“Too many of our people just tuned out (in 2010). That’s what folks on the other side are counting on, because when we stay home, they win,” she said.

Michaud reminded the crowd that only 32 days remain in the campaign. He repeatedly asked the crowd to continue supporting him up until Election Day, an acknowledgment of how the 2010 Democratic candidate, Libby Mitchell, plummeted in the polls during the last month of the campaign and finished a distant third to LePage and Cutler.

“I need you to stand with me. I need you to stay with me,” Michaud said. “I am the only candidate in this race that can defeat Gov. LePage. We cannot afford history to repeat itself by allowing outside interest groups to divide us.”

Michaud emphasized a range of issues that are important to women and young people, including education, student debt, women’s health care, equal work for equal pay, raising the minimum wage and clean, renewable energy. The rally was the latest in a string by big-name Democrats campaigning for Michaud and Democratic congressional candidates.

Other top Democrats include former President Bill Clinton; Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman; Vermont Gov. and Democratic Governor Association Chairman Peter Schumlin; and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Michaud also appeared on stage with Vice President Joe Biden in September, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, where they spoke of a pro-middle-class agenda