About 76,000 votes had been cast in early balloting as of Monday in the Congressional District 8 special election that ends April 17, including 41,523 in the GOP primary, where four candidates are running.

More than 160,000 early ballots were mailed out in four counties, with a return rate of 48.2 percent so far for Republican and Democratic ballots. Pima County makes up the bulk of CD8, but the totals include Pinal, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties.

Republican contenders Frank Antenori, Jesse Kelly, Martha McSally and Dave Sitton will face off in their final debate Thursday at Madera Clubhouse in Quail Creek.

Democrat Ron Barber is unopposed in the primary; as of Friday, 34,314 Democrats had returned early ballots, according to the Recorders’ offices in the four counties. April 13 is the last day to mail early ballots to ensure they arrive by the deadline.

Barber is leading in fundraising among those who’ve reported, with $549,132. He is followed by Sitton with $307,676; Kelly with more than $215,000; McSally with more than $160,000 and Antenori with $46,430.

The Antenori and Barber totals are for the Federal Election Commission reporting period that ended March 28, and the other figures include funds raised since then.

FEC reports were due April 5 and information for four of the candidates was posted by Friday.

Antenori’s were posted online Tuesday. A campaign spokesman said the reports were filed by the deadline, but said the FEC gave information in filing for a regular election, not the special election, so the report was not posted until Tuesday. The FEC web site lists the report as filed Monday and amended Tuesday.

Early ballots can be dropped off at polling places on Primary Election Day, April 17, and before then at three sites listed on the recorder’s web site,www.recorder.pima.gov.

June 12 is general election day in the contest to fill the remainder of Gabrielle Giffords’ House term. She resigned in January because of injuries suffered in a 2011 shooting.

Local voters will go to the polls again in August and November to elect a candidate to a full two-year term in newly drawn CD 2, which includes Green Valley, Sahuarita and much of current CD 8. Barber faces primary opposition in the Aug. 28 vote, which could include another GOP primary contest.

Pima County Registrar Chris J. Roads said mail-in returns tend to be heavy early on, then drop off, then rise again as the deadline nears. He said the office received 2,100 ballots Friday, the lowest day so far, and said the number roughly doubled on Monday, and he expects that rise to continue during the week.

“In the beginning, we got more than 18,000 one day,” he said.

In the 2010 primary election, voters requested 158,817 early ballots and returned 102,721, for a return rate of 65 percent.

GOP debate

The GOP debate at Quail Creek will be moderated by Garret Lewis of KNST-AM 790 radio, and the questions will be posed by Bruce Ash, Arizona Republican National Committeeman. The free event will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and doors open at 5:45 p.m. It will be broadcast live on KNST 790 AM and 97.1 FM.

The hosts are Green Valley Tea Party; Quail Creek Republican Club; Republican Club Green Valley/Sahuarita and the Sahuarita Tea Party.  

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