Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Mail-in ballots may decide the race to replace Gabrielle Giffords in Congress.
The competition in Congressional District Eight shows how mail-in ballots have gone from something for a few absentee voters to such a major force campaigns put a high priority on locking in those early votes.
Jesse Kelly's campaign signs remind voters to cast their votes early.
We didn't see Ron Barber signs with that message but the Pima County Recorder shows both parties are pushing those early ballots.
So far almost 66 thousand Democrats, and almost 72 thousand Republicans asked for early ballots.
They returned almost 43 percent of them in the first week of voting. The Recorder says 15 percent is more typical.
Political consultant Margaret Kenski says early voters are often party loyalists pre-sold on a candidate.
KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked her: "What does that say, that says that people are even more inclined to be in their trench, with their mind made up?"
Margaret Kenski: "Yes. I think they are more in their trench. They've made up their mind and they can't take it back once they've voted. I think it just reinforces the entrenchment of rather narrow perspectives."
Margaret Kenski works for Republican candidates but still offers non-partisan analysis.
Her daughter Kate is a professor at U of A who analyses politics and politicians.
Craig Smith asked her: "Do they tend to become aggressive sooner because they feel the need to make an impression more quickly?
Kate Kenski: "They absolutely have to especially in states such as Arizona where early voting is high and people are used to early voting. If they wait, they've simply missed the boat."
Margaret Kenski suggests if you vote too early you may not be thinking it through.
She says, "If you get too entrenched, you don't have all the facts. If you're not accepting or listening to why the other side might be thinking or doing what they're doing then you're probably missing out on the truth somewhere. Maybe you're scared and you see the other side as the enemy."
With early voting locking up party loyalists, the real battle is over independents.