We’re sad, not bitter, sad. Bereft, even.

By Karen Heller

We’re sad, not bitter, sad. Bereft, even.

Hillary’s left. Barack’s departed. They’ve moved on.

We haven’t.

The phone slumbers. The mail slot’s liberated from the clot of political mailers. Our Outlook inbox is cleared of hourly missives.

The governor and mayor called nightly, never at 3 a.m., but nightly.

“Bet it’s Ed, again,” we declared before lifting the receiver. Sure enough, it was.

In the final stages, the surrogates receded. Barack, Hillary and the Big Dog phoned directly, as well they should. We mattered, big time.

Now, where, oh where, is the love?

Oh, right, decamped to Indiana and North Carolina.

Politicians are cruel and cutting like that. Court ’em and leave ’em.

Do they write? Do they call? No, they do not.

For six weeks, the klieg lights shone on Pennsylvania. It was like being Lindsay Lohan, or something. Now, we’ve been dumped, experiencing withdrawal as the recovering celebutantes of primary politics.

We hoped the candidates would do for Pennsylvania what scores of politicians have done for New Hampshire and Iowa, delivering pothole-free highways and juicy government pork, much the way that West Virginia became one giant RobertByrdhstan.

But, no.

Few specific promises were made, only photo ops in time-worn locations — Independence Hall, American Legion halls, the Italian Market, diners and more diners.

It was as if Ike were still president or, possibly, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Turn of events

In an astonishing turn of events, both candidates waited until the Most Important Day in Our History, that would be election day, to be photographed in Philadelphia’s equivalent of kissing a baby, that is, holding a cheesesteak. Hillary came in for the kill at Boccella’s in Conshohocken, while Barack traveled to Pat’s, bypassing the Geno’s ordering-English mandate/publicity stunt.

We were reminded that this was a battleground state and, indeed, the fight got bloody. Quick, cue the “Rocky” theme song, pan the Art Museum steps!

News troops descended, along with Stephen Colbert, forced to spend time in Amtrak-through country while harvesting new spins during the primacy primary.

Pennsylvania was drenched in rusty stereotypes, as if the place was straight out of “The Deer Hunter,” generalizations that weren’t even true in 1969. Honest, we’re hep to this 21st-century stuff. Philadelphia’s even rebranded its homeless shelters as “overnight cafes,” sort of like BYOBs — without the B’s.

Six weeks! We thought it would spoil us forever. Who knew that six weeks of attention would reduce a state of 12.4 million to the cliche of bitter, bowling, gun-toting, church-clinging, beer-chugging, cheesesteak-scarfing “Rocky” fans?

Waxing nostalgic, Hillary spoke of her summers in Scranton playing pinochle because, apparently, Yahtzee was too hip. Barack went to find big money in San Francisco and described folks here as bitter.

Let’s get this clear. We can do bitter.

But when Pennsylvanians get angry and frustrated about the state of things, they don’t cling to guns or religion. They cling to their utter disgust with the Bush administration.

Which would fit Obama’s description of our “antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

Who’s gonna fly now? The pols and the press, off to Indiana and North Carolina, both hosting primaries May 6. Expect the words Hoosier, basketball and barbecue to be uttered ad nauseam.

Meanwhile, we’ve been left in the rust.

X Karen Heller is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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