Since he first stood in the massive shadow of Barack Obama four years ago, Joe Biden has emerged to be a full partner and a great political asset for the president.

The unequal nature of their relationship at first was a function of Obama’s unique standing as a candidate, but as he has fallen to earth, Biden’s star has risen. He is becoming an excellent surrogate for the president, taking on some of the essential work of defending the administration and sticking in the shiv when necessary. Biden does the latter with real skill, most of the time. His attack this weekend on Mitt Romney and Republicans as being “a little out of touch” was masterful.

Biden, whose campaign I worked for in the 1980’s, is a remarkable political figure. His personal story is masterfully chronicled in the great Richard Ben Cramer book, “What It Takes.” Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972 at the age of 29, headed the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees and ran for president twice.

But what animates him politically is his visceral connection to a middle-class, often ethnic population who, as the cliche goes, work hard and play by the rules. He comes from Scranton, Pa., and from an America where people sweep their stoops, know their neighbors, often serve their country, love their kids, but aren’t afraid to smack them. It is an America where the dream is still college, maybe a professional job, Sundays down on the shore and enough in the bank to retire. It is an America that is struggling, disappearing really, in many places in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan.

It is also a voting population that started abandoning the Democratic Party in 1980 and has rarely come back. This shrinking group is still a crucial swing vote, and while they may not warm to the cerebral Obama or the mega-millionaire elitist Romney, they might just like Joey Biden.