A $50 million “earmark” Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley secured in 2003 to get federal funding for a controversial Iowa project is again front and center in the closing days of an Iowa campaign.

The “EarthPark” project has never gotten off the ground and the federal money had to be returned. John McCain called it the “EarthPork” project four years ago as he crusaded against “pork barrel” projects. 

“You think that even the people of Iowa think that we need an indoor rainforest in Iowa?” McCain asked a crowd in Ankeny back in August of 2007.

EarthPark was to have been located at Lake Red Rock, near Pella. Plans included a four-acre tropical rainforest and a 60,000 gallon aquarium. 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is now ridiculing a rival’s vote for that EarthPark earmark.

Perry, the current governor of Texas, has been blasting Rick Santorum for his support of earmarks when Santorum was in congress. Perry cited Santorum’s vote for spending on a teapot museum in North Carolina and the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska as well.

“Just yesterday (Santorum) once again defended his prolific pork barrel spending,” Perry said today in Waterloo. “Why were those important enough for you to vote for?”

Perry and Santorum seem to be battling for supremacy among social conservatives, as an NBC poll released late this week shows the two in a statistical tie for third, behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Perry has been campaigning as a Washington outsider, and he’s now labeling Santorum as one of the D.C. insiders.

“He voted to raise the debt ceiling eight times while he was in the United States Senate, more than doubling the debt in this country from $4.1 trillion to $9 trillion.”

In 2006, former Congressman Jim Nussle’s support of the EarthPark project was the subject of a humorous campaign ad featuring soon-to-be-Governor Chet Culver and his running mate Patty Judge ridiculing the project as water pelted them. 

“Jim Nussle thinks it’s raining money in Washington,” Culver said, and Judge added: “Like wasting $50 million to build a rainforest in Iowa.”

That commercial made Grassley livid.

“Mother always reminded me, she always referred to some people who didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain,” Grassley said in 2006, drawing out the last word for emphasis. 

Culver and Judge, if you may recall, wore rain gear in the ad. Judge was wearing a yellow rainslicker and a matching yellow hat.

David Oman, a former chief of staff to Republican Governor Terry Branstad, was the executive director of the EarthPark project.