Tuesday night’s biggest surprise wasn’t that President Obama won, or that Democrats held on to the Senate, but that they actually padded their 53-member majority with two new seats.

That’s a coup for Democrats and a huge disappointment for Republicans, not just because it clarifies the outcome of the 2012 election, but because it could prevent the GOP from retaking the chamber in 2014, for a third cycle in a row.

Two years from now, the Senate Democrats who rode the 2008 wave into office will face re-election. In theory, this provides the GOP with large pick-up opportunities. Democrats will be defending seats everywhere they’d rather not fight in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, and West Virginia — just to name a few.

Offsetting that, there’s only one moderate Republican up for re-election in 2014 — the only moderate Republican left in the Senate, for that matter — Susan Collins (R-ME). And her seat is likely safe unless she retires.

Of course, the outcome in 2014 will of course depend on external factors — the economy first among them — and on whether Democratic voters learned anything in 2010 about the perils of shrugging off a midterm election. But until very late in the 2012 cycle it looked like Democrats were going to lose seats, if not control of the Senate, on Tuesday. Their new, unexpected five seat buffer, and the GOP’s penchant for nominating unelectable Senate candidates, means they’re not destined to lose power two years from now.

h/t: Brian Beutler at TPM