Obama proposes $1,000 emergency rebate checks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday pushed for a windfall profits tax to fund $1,000 emergency rebate checks for consumers besieged by high energy costs, a counter to Republican rival John McCain's call for more offshore drilling in coastal states like Florida. The pitch for putting some of the economic burden of $4-a-gallon gasoline on the oil industry served a dual purpose for Obama: It allowed him to talk up an economic issue, seen by many as a strength for Democrats and a weakness for Republicans, and at the same time respond to criticism from McCain that Obama's opposition to offshore drilling leads to higher prices at the pump. In linking McCain to the unpopular President Bush, Obama struck a theme from Ronald Reagan's successful 1980 campaign against President Jimmy Carter by asking a town-hall audience in St. Petersburg: "Do you think you are better off than you were four years ago or eight years ago? If you aren't better off, can you afford another four years?" Obama primed the crowd by noting new government figures showing 51,000 jobs lost last month and citing 460,000 jobs lost over the last seven months. He tied other bad economic news from the Bush administration to McCain and offered his energy program as one route to relief. "This rebate will be enough to offset the increased cost of gas for a working family over the next four months," Obama said during a two-day campaign swing in Florida. "It will be enough to cover the entire increase in your heating bills. Or you could use the rebate for any of your other bills, or even to pay down your own debt." McCain was in Florida, too, speaking to the National Urban League's annual conference and criticizing Obama as not supportive of education initiatives that would help underprivileged students. Obama was scheduled to address the predominantly black group on Saturday. The candidates entered Florida as a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed the race there essentially tied, with Obama at 46 percent and McCain at 44 percent. The poll also showed that McCain had gained strength with independents over the last month, holding a 46-41 lead in July compared to a 47-37 Obama advantage in June. Florida has been a heartbreaker for Democrats since they lost the state and the presidency to George W. Bush by 537 votes in the disputed 2000 election and by more than 380,000 votes in 2004. The state elected a Republican governor in 2006, a rare bright spot for the GOP that year. Although Obama has opened seven offices in Florida, McCain has 35 there, illustrating the GOP's conviction that it cannot afford to lose Florida's 27 electoral votes in November. McCain's campaign gained a head start over the Obama effort in the state thanks to its presidential primary early this year. The Arizona senator topped his GOP rivals and effectively vanquished from the race former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with the help of Gov. Charlie Crist, now considered a possible running mate for McCain. Obama and other Democrats refused to campaign for Florida's convention delegates when its primary moved ahead of other nominating contests on the calendar in violation of party rules. His main opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, won only a hollow victory there because seating its delegation became embroiled in a dispute she later lost. Energy issues could motivate Florida voters. The Quinnipiac poll showed six in 10 respondents backing Bush's call for more offshore drilling and wanting Congress to go along. At the same time, about a third of those polled favored Obama's energy policies over McCain's, with another third undecided between the two. In St. Petersburg, Obama occasionally struggled to make his point before a boisterous crowd. Demonstrators in the audience demanded that he address minority issues, waving a banner saying "What about the black community, Obama." He countered that he pushed for a racial profiling law as a state legislator, then turned attention back to the economy with a focus on McCain.