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Dearborn — U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley excoriated Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Saturday as someone who only cares about his privilege and not about working-class Americans.

The second-term Oregon Democrat made the comments to Democrats at the Dearborn headquarters as the party tries to energize its base to vote on Tuesday for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump has made inroads with some Democrats and workers by calling for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and a pending Asian trade deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership.

“The contrast between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn’t be more profound,” Merkley said. “Donald Trump is someone who has spent his entire life promoting himself and his brand and his wallet by tearing down others.”

He cited Trump’s nonpayment to some subcontractors, a practice the New York businessman has explained happens when the the Trump Organization is unhappy with the work.

Trump is “a walking version of trampling others,” Merkley said.

The senator’s efforts came as Detroit kept open its main elections office and four satellite offices Saturday morning to accept absentee ballots. President Bill Clinton organized an unscheduled Wednesday night meeting of the city’s clergy and politicians to try to energize African-American voters.

But there was sporadic traffic Saturday morning at two of the satellite absentee ballot locations.

Poll workers at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown said a small, steady flow of voters had showed up in its first hour of operation.

At 10:45 a.m., two voters so far had cast ballots at the satellite location in southwest Detroit’s Patton Recreation Center, poll workers said.

Voting continued to be slow but steady at the downtown bus station at 1:45 p.m., a poll worker said. Two people were voting.

The satellite location was scheduled to close at 4 p.m.

Back in Dearborn, Merkley criticized Trump as an “irrational” candidate that he wouldn’t want to “be near the nuclear weapons” as president.

In an interview with The Detroit News, Merkley said so much is at stake in this election and that Michigan is close like other battleground states.

“It’s very hard for me to understand why people would support Donald Trump because what he is putting forward is completely inconsistent with the life he has lived,” he said. “... He’s cheated his own employees, his contractors, his investors, his lenders.”

Merkley acknowledged Clinton has made mistakes regarding using her private email as secretary to state. The FBI a week ago initiated a probe because it found tens of thousands of emails on the laptop of former New York Democratic Congressman that may be relevant the formerly closed investigation.

But Clinton’s mistakes don’t preclude her from being the superior candidate in the race, Merkley argued.

“There’s no question that Hillary Clinton made a mistake by using a private email on her server, but the best way to think about that is the best way Bernie Sanders talked about it: Enough with the emails already,” he said.

“That was a mistake. She has apologized for it. But we're talking about things of enormous gravity to this nation. We’re talking about issues of living wage jobs, of control of nuclear weapons.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

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