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Republicans had a good night. But for a party living on borrowed time, Tuesday's results were not so much a vindication as a reprieve.

The very factors that played in their favour in this midterm vote are the same ones that will hurt Republicans in 2016, when young and minority voters will likely turn out in far greater numbers and the GOP won't have a departing President Barack Obama to use as a campaign foil.

Republicans exploited Mr. Obama's dim approval rating – about 40 per cent overall, but barely 30 per cent among white voters – to make these midterms a plebiscite on the President. All they had to do was depict their Democratic foes as rubber stamps for Mr. Obama's agenda. The President fed into that narrative, reminding voters that, though he was not personally on the ballot, his policies were.

"Every single one of them," Mr. Obama said in early October. Republicans could not believe their luck.

Unlike the Tea Party wave that whacked Democrats in the 2010 midterms, voters this year were not so much angry at Mr. Obama as scared as hell by his fecklessness. When Ebola and Islamic State raised their already elevated levels of insecurity, this President failed to reassure them.

Still, even if he had, the Democrats might have lost seats, as the president's party usually does in midterm elections. Midterm voters tend to be older and whiter. But even with that wind at its back, Republicans made solid, but not sweeping, gains on Tuesday. And that speaks to their bigger problem, specifically the party's failure to attract more young and minority voters.

Republicans will likely control the House of Representatives for a while yet, even if they lose the overall popular vote. That's because Democrats win heavily urban districts by massive margins, often with 90 per cent of the vote. Republicans win their suburban and rural districts by much smaller majorities.

But in Senate races, where it's the statewide vote that counts, a fast-changing electorate means there are fewer safe Republican seats. Take Georgia. As African-Americans from elsewhere in the country flock to Atlanta, joined by an influx of Hispanics and Asian-Americans, they are turning Georgia from Republican red to swing-state purple. Whites accounted for 72 per cent of Georgia's population in 1980; their proportion is now down to 55 per cent.

That's why this year's Senate race in the Peach State was a real contest for a change. GOP candidate David Perdue was still favoured to win based on early results. But it's a safe bet that Georgia will only get more competitive in future elections.

In the face of such unfavourable demographics, Republicans may look back at the 2014 midterms as a last hurrah.