U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley on Wednesday announced a $1.7 million federal grant for a job training center in Las Vegas. Around the same time midmorning, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller visited a small graphics business a dozen miles across town, and then toured the Sunrise Hospital and its children's hospital.
During these dog days of summer, the two U.S. Senate candidates are focused on what each considers a winning message: Berkley's government push to help create jobs and Heller's pitch that companies will hire again if government makes it easier to do business and doesn't impose higher taxes.
"The No. 1 issue in the country is jobs, jobs, jobs," Berkley, D-Nev., said Wednesday at the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow (FIT) training center where she announced the grant.
"There's just no confidence" in government right now by small and big business leaders, Heller, R-Nev., said in a speech Tuesday to the Building Owners and Managers Association. "There is no certainty, no direction in the country to make business feel good."
The two 2012 contenders' contrasting styles reflect the opposing Democratic and Republican party views on how to spark job growth in a struggling economy.
During the congressional recess, in Southern and Northern Nevada, Berkley has been mixing official stops with campaign harangues against Heller.
The senator has been all but ignoring his opponent and her jabs, using an incumbent's strategy after he was appointed to complete the term of U.S. Sen John Ensign, R-Nev., who quit in disgrace.
Both have criticized Congress, even though as members they are part of the growing divide between the parties that have brought government to the brink of financial disaster.
Berkley this week criticized the supercommittee of a dozen lawmakers tasked with finding at least $1.5 trillion in U.S. debt savings over a 10-year period. She voted for the budget deal that created the panel and raised the U.S. debt limit, but she said Congress was abdicating its duties.
"I would have preferred if we had done it collectively," Berkley explained Wednesday, saying lawmakers should be able to come to an agreement without a special panel. "The supercommittee cannot fail in its mission. It's too important to Americans and to the recovery of our economy."
Heller, in his short speech to the builders' group, said there's no leadership coming out of Washington and the biggest example is the inability to agree on a budget during the past two years. He said Congress keeps passing "continuing resolutions" to keep the government running temporarily. The current one runs out at the end of the September, he said, and the budget battles will begin again.
"If you can't put together a budget, you can't lead," Heller said. "That's why we have a political divide in our country, because we can't agree on a budget."
Heller voted against the final budget deal that also raised the U.S. debt limit because, he said, it was "so watered down" that it didn't do enough to cut spending and balance the budget. He said he voted two times to raise the debt limit in separate GOP-backed bills, but Democrats rejected them.
What's the answer? Compromise, Heller said, though there's little sign of that in Congress.
Wednesday morning, Heller visited Las Vegas Color Graphics, a small business, because the company invited him. He also toured the Sunrise hospital facilities for the same reason, his staff said.
"Senator Heller receives invitations and tour requests from across the state. When he is in Nevada he tries to meet with as many Nevadans as possible," Heller spokesman Stewart Bybee said.
For Berkley, Wednesday's grant announcement was a long time coming.
She had been working for a couple of years with the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow (FIT) job training center to win the $1.7 million grant from the Commerce Department. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also got involved, as well as local officials and the gaming and banking industries.
"We would have never gotten the grant without Congresswoman Berkley," said Janet Blumen, founder and CEO of FIT, who said she has known Berkley since the two were lawyers in Las Vegas.
FIT has helped more than 1,000 Nevadans find work in the past three years, according to Blumen. The fresh funding will allow the facility to add a second floor with five new computer labs as well as more space for classrooms and tutoring, Berkley said.
"It's a win, win, win for everybody," Berkley said at a news conference at the job training center, which moved in 2008 to West Las Vegas in the city's Business Enterprise Zone.
Berkley noted that Southern Nevada has been hardest hit in the nation when it comes to unemployment. The jobless rate hit 14 percent in July in Las Vegas and 12.9 percent statewide.
Construction of the jobs center will last two years, but officials didn't know how many people would be employed by that work. When the expansion is complete, leaders of the center estimated it will be able to train twice as many people for jobs, ranging from health care to banking industries.
Blumen said she launched the center 14 years ago to help the chronically unemployed or underemployed get training to help them find jobs and get off welfare and other public assistance.
She said the mission has shifted in recent years as the construction industry collapsed in Southern Nevada. Now, she said, the center often helps people who have lost jobs retrain for new vocations.
"We want to get people into jobs that are not just minimum-wage jobs," Blumen said. "In some cases these people have lost their jobs and their homes, and they're at the bottom. They have to start their lives again. ... Once they get a job, it restores their dignity and self-respect."
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.