New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, hands pens to legislators after signing into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Friday, June 24, 2011. Behind Cuomo, from left, are Assemblyman Matthew Titone, Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Sen. Thomas Duane and Sen. James Alesi. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

It’s also stoked talk that Cuomo is rapidly transforming himself into a first among equals when it comes to the jockeying for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

“It’s not just that he delivered on a major civil rights issue for the Democratic base in a huge state, it’s how he did it — winning bipartisan support and sticking with it when it seemed it might fail,” said Democratic consultant Jason Ralston. “Combine that with his name and his focus on the middle class and he is at the front of the pack for 2016.”

Obviously, it’s early to be talking about the 2016 race since we are more than a year away from the 2012 presidential contest.

It remains unclear whether the Democratic nominee in five years time will be challenging a Republican incumbent in the White House or be in an open seat race after two terms for President Obama. Given that, all speculation about the 2016 presidential race is rightly taken cum grano salis.

But, political strategists are forever looking toward the future and the next big thing — and Cuomo made a claim to that title by finessing passage of the gay marriage bill through the Republican-controlled state Senate. (Four Republican lawmakers voted with Democrats to pass the bill.)

“With the world watching, the legislature, by a bipartisan vote, has said that all New Yorkers are equal under the law,” Cuomo said after signing the bill late Friday night.

For Cuomo, it brought to a close a largely productive session of the state legislature.

Passage of gay marriage bill tops amazing year for Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” read the headline of a news analysis by New York Daily News’ Albany bureau chief Kenneth Lovett.

“Unlike the detached George Pataki, the boorish Eliot Spitzer and the feeble David Paterson, Cuomo found a way to work with a scandal-scarred and credibility-challenged Legislature,” wrote Lovett, touting Cuomo’s successes on a budget bill and ethics reform legislation.

Cuomo’s strong session has paid off with sky-high approval ratings at a time when most governors are struggling badly.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month showed more than six in ten New Yorkers approved of the job Cuomo was doing while just 18 percent disapproved. Amazingly, 59 percent of self-identified Republicans said they approved of how Cuomo was handling his job.

“If you can govern successfully in this environment everyone has to take you seriously,” said longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

Aside from his legislative successes and impressive poll numbers, Cuomo had two other big things going for him: his name and his fundraising capacity.

Cuomo’s father, Mario, served as the governor of New York during the 1980s and early 1990s and was once seen as the party’s strongest presidential nominee. (He passed on a bid in 1992.)

Those political bloodlines have long had Cuomo the younger on the national radar of Democratic political operatives.

But, his rise to power has occasionally been bumpy; after serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration, Cuomo ran a weak campaign for governor in 2002, eventually dropping out in the face of a near-certain primary loss. After passing on a re-run for governor in 2006, Cuomo was easily elected in 2010.

Cuomo’s fundraising base in New York — one of the largest and most affluent Democratic donor bases in the country — also makes him a force with which to be reckoned. Cuomo collected upwards of $20 million for that race.

Asked whether Cuomo had put himself at the front of the 2016 field, one seasoned New York Democratic political observer replied “without a doubt”, adding: “He had an incredibly productive legislative session, his approval numbers are sky high, and he can raise the money.”

Among the other names mentioned as potential 2016 candidates for Democrats include: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.