Image: Patty Murray
Elaine Thompson  /  AP
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks at an election night party for Democrats on Tuesday in Seattle.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/4/2010 10:09:49 PM ET 2010-11-05T02:09:49

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray pushed past Republican challenger Dino Rossi on Thursday and will win a fourth term, NBC News projected.

In winning, Murray preserves breathing room for the Senate's shrunken Democratic majority after Republicans took control of the House for the rest of President Barack Obama's first term. Obama campaigned for Murray twice, including a 10,000-person Seattle rally just as voters were receiving their ballots.

Rossi conceded in a statement on his website, saying: "I called Senator Murray to offer my congratulations on her re-election to the U.S. Senate."

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There is now just one Senate race still outstanding: The bitter battle in Alaska, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski waged a write-in campaign against the Republican who beat her in the primary, Joe Miller, and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams.

Democrats will still control the Senate with 53 seats. Murkowski has said that if she wins, she will caucus with the Republicans.

Murray's victory was secured Thursday as tallies pushed her lead to about 46,000 votes out of more than 1.8 million counted, or about 51 percent to 49 percent. About three-quarters of the expected ballots had been counted in unofficial returns.

Decision 2010: Complete election results

Hundreds of thousands of ballots still await processing, but an Associated Press analysis determined Murray's lead would be insurmountable.

Murray's campaign offered a strong defense of her ability to win federal spending, even in a year when economic jitters threatened to derail that traditional strength for sitting senators. The list of projects she touted was seemingly endless: Bridges, highways, veterans' hospitals, dams, port construction and more.

Murray also sought to paint Rossi as a friend of big business, pointing to his call to repeal the Democrats' new Wall Street regulations.

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Rossi's campaign was relentlessly focused on Murray's spending record, including the sometimes intertwining paths of Murray's campaign contributors and her "earmarks" for pet projects. He argued that the one-time underdog candidate had changed over 18 years in Washington, D.C., and had to be replaced to secure the nation's economic future.

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Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton all made appearances in the state late in the campaign on Murray's behalf.

The campaign was expensive and smothered Washington airwaves with advertising — much of it sharply negative in tone. Murray spent nearly $15 million through September to Rossi's roughly $2.5 million, but a flood of outside money helped Rossi keep up.

In conceding, Rossi said his message "found a very receptive audience all across this state, though not quite receptive enough."

It was Rossi's third statewide loss in six years. He nearly won the 2004 governor's race, losing by just 133 votes after a long court fight. Rossi lost a second gubernatorial race in 2008.

This article contains reporting from NBC News, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press.

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