FOR MONTHS, the Democratic presidential candidates have delivered policy speeches, stumped at town hall meetings and jousted at debates.

But while Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have talked themselves hoarse about health care and Iraq, they've rarely discussed key issues for Philadelphia.

Like crime, transportation or housing.

Cities have been edited out of this election, urban policy experts say.

"I'm surprised nobody has mentioned that they're not talking about this," said John Roman, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

Neither Democratic candidate has an urban agenda prominently displayed on his or her Web site, although both highlight rural agendas.

The Obama campaign noted that many urban issues - like jobs, housing and community development - are addressed within his poverty plan.

"I think there are some initiatives within that poverty agenda that do get to urban issues," said Obama spokesman Sean Smith.

But experts note that poverty is not a strictly urban problem.

"More poor people live in suburbs today than cities," said Bruce Katz, the director of metropolitan policy at the Brookings Institute.

During a meeting with the Daily News editorial board on Monday, Clinton was asked about the lack of an urban plan on her Web site.

"That's odd, because we have a whole 'Leave No City Behind' agenda," she said.

The Clinton camp added an urban fact sheet to their site on Tuesday - at the bottom of 22 links within a section titled "Strengthening the Middle Class." In it, she pledges to invest in education, green jobs and infrastructure.

Political analysts said that the urban conversation often gets buried because cities overwhelmingly vote Democrat - so candidates focus on swing voters in rural or suburban areas.

"This is all saying, 'We know the cities are going to be with us and poor people are going to be with us,' " said Ed Schwartz, of the Institute for Civic Values.

But Schwartz said that a conversation about cities is particularly important now because cities have lost significant federal support under President Bush.

"The block-grant program [federal money for city projects] has been cut dramatically by the Bush administration," he said. "It's being decimated and the candidates aren't talking about it in cities."

The timing of the primary season also pushes city issues to a back burner, experts said. The early primary states - such as New Hampshire and Iowa - lack big urban hubs.

"It's partly due to the fact that those two states go first and the conventional wisdom is that they're rural states," said Katz.

But Katz stressed that a majority of Americans live in cities or nearby suburbs. He added that beyond short-term efforts to fund more housing units or police officers, the federal government should be thinking about how to make our cities competitive in the global economy.

"Cities, they're the drivers of the economy," Katz said. "They're even more important today than they were 30 or 40 years ago."

Mayor Nutter - who has endorsed Clinton and praised her plans for cities in a Daily News op-ed article this week - has called for a forum with the candidates that would focus on cities. He said yesterday that he was optimistic that the event would come together soon, and that both candidates would attend. *