WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump can see one bright spot amid a sea of public opinion polls predicting he'll lose to Joe Biden -- a majority of voters in the states he needs to win trust him to manage the economy.
But Republican strategists say they doubt Trump's promise that the economy will quickly recover and that he can rebuild it to its former strength will win over voters more concerned for the first time with a public health crisis and while the economy is still hobbled by high unemployment and slow growth.
A New York Times-Siena College poll of six battleground states released Thursday showed that 55% of registered voters in key Electoral College states -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina -- trust Trump on the economy, compared to 39% for Biden. But Biden had the overall support of most voters.
Trump had staked his reelection argument on the economy, when the nation was near full employment and stocks were soaring. The coronavirus devastated that argument as the economy ground into a recession and unemployment hit levels not seen since the 1930s. Trump began to argue that he built a successful economy once, and he would do it again if given a second term.
But four months before the election, voters are rendering judgment on issues they find more important than the economy, traditionally the No. 1 issue.
Trump is facing withering criticism over his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 122,000 Americans and is surging so sharply in some of those key states, including all-important Florida, that governors are reclosing or limiting business activity.
Ed Rogers, a veteran Republican strategist and adviser in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, said the president was "cruising toward" reelection in January because he enjoyed peace and prosperity. The coronavirus robbed him of prosperity and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody roiled domestic tensions.
"In January, Trump was taunting people, saying that you may not like me but you have no choice," Rogers said. "By any measure, that said, this president has a lot of red lights flashing on the dashboard and is losing altitude and it's not good. I'm a good Republican but I'm not optimistic. There's no reason to be."
Trump touts the economy when there is good news, as he did in the Rose Garden after an unexpected slowdown in job losses earlier this month. He's also cheered the economy at other White House events and on campaign stops.
"We're going to go up, up, up," Trump said at his first campaign rally since the virus outbreak began. "August, September, October and people are going to say, 'Man, this guy's doing a good job. He knows what he's doing.'"