The passage of a same-sex-marriage bill late Friday in New York drew considerable national coverage to the Empire State and was broadly touted as a major victory for first-term Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
It also has 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,” Democratic consultant Jason Ralston said. “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, as the 2012 presidential election is more than a year away.
It remains unclear whether the Democratic nominee in five years will be challenging a Republican in the White House or will be in an open-seat race after two terms for President Obama. Given that, all speculation about the 2016 contest is taken lightly.
But political strategists are forever looking toward the future and the next big thing — and Cuomo made a claim to that title by guiding passage of the same-sex-marriage legislation through the Republican-controlled state Senate. (Four Republican lawmakers voted with Democrats to pass the measure.)
“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 Friday.
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 the New York Daily News’s 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 that more than six in 10 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 Democratic strategist Paul Begala.
Aside from Cuomo’s legislative success and impressive poll numbers, he has two other big things going for him: his name and his fundraising capacity.
Cuomo’s father, Mario, was governor of New York in the 1980s and early 1990s and was once considered 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 rerun in 2006, he was easily elected in 2010.
Cuomo’s fundraising base in New York — one of the largest and most affluent Democratic donor pools in the country — also makes him a force with which to be reckoned. He collected about $20 million for the 2010 race.
Other names mentioned as potential 2016 presidential Democratic candidates include Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.).