Mr Drakeford, who has been the face of the region’s coronavirus response as Welsh first minister, looked set to remain in government on Friday night after his party held its ground in key Senedd seats that had been targeted by the Tories.
Early in the campaign the polls had hinted at the potential for a dire showing for the Labour Party in the region, with suggestions they were at risk of winning as few as 22 of the devolved parliament’s 60 seats.
However, on Friday evening the party had held firm to its 27 constituency seats, losing the Vale of Clwyd to the Tories while taking the Rhondda from Plaid Cymru - unseating the Welsh nationalist party’s high-profile former leader Leanne Wood in the process.
The party had initially attempted to play down expectations, with sources saying retaining its hold on the Senedd would be “a massive challenge”.
However, commenting on the “remarkable turnaround” on Friday evening, a Labour spokesperson said: “It is increasingly clear that people across Wales have put their faith in Welsh Labour and Mark Drakeford to lead the next Welsh government and lead Wales out of the pandemic.”
Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, said Mr Drakeford’s handling of the pandemic was a “major factor” in the results after he saw his share of the vote in Cardiff South and Penarth grow by 4,879 compared to the last election.
He said: “We’ve had to make life-changing choices that affected every single family in the country. The pandemic has thrust the first minister in the spotlight, and most people like what they’ve seen in the way he’s handled the pandemic.
“What we now need to do is understand what that means for the future government for Wales, how we handle this next phase finishing up the pandemic response, and then the difficult task of recovery - one that I think we’re in the best possible place for.”
Welsh government deputy transport minister Lee Waters, who had seen his seat targeted by Plaid before he was re-elected, told the BBC Mr Drakeford had been an “asset to the ticket”, adding: “He may not be flashy, he may be a bit nerdy, a bit boring, he’s a university professor, but thank God for him.”
Wrexham, Clwyd South and Delyn, were all held despite being targeted by the Tories after they flipped them from Labour in the 2019 Westminster election.
Welsh Tory leader in the Senedd Andrew RT Davies said his party’s taking of Vale of Clwyd from Labour was a “brilliant result”, but suggested traditional Labour voters who voted Tory in the 2019 general election had now “come home”.
Mr Davies told the PA news agency: “It does seem from other seats that have been declared in other parts of Wales that the Labour voters have come home to it after the, shall we say, Brexit election of 2019.”
Labour are on 25 seats, the Tories on eight, and Plaid Cymru on five with two more constituency declarations to go, including Mr Drakeford’s Cardiff West constituency.
The Lib Dems, who lost Brecon and Radnorshire to the Conservatives, will now have no constituency seats in the senate.
The final make-up of the next Senedd will not be confirmed until the weekend with final regional results expected on Saturday.
Additional reporting by PA