Nationally, the presidential campaign is being waged on the issues of jobs and the economy, but here in Iowa, an entirely different battle is unfolding.

In the competition for the highly influential evangelical vote, abortion and gay rights are at the forefront as Republican candidates try to assure voters of their own convictions and sow doubts about those of their rivals.

Candidates are working under the radar in private meetings with influential pastors, and occasionally taking the fight public. Several this week pounced on Herman Cain’s statement that although he opposes abortion under any circumstance, such decisions should be left to the mother, not the government.

“A lot of behind-the-scenes wooing and romancing is going on,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which will host a forum Saturday that will be attended by nearly every Republican candidate. “The reason why is fairly obvious: If someone underperforms among that constituency, arithmetically, it becomes very difficult to end up in the top one or two places” in Iowa.

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