President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush said Tuesday that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's experience as first lady has prepared her to handle the "pressure" of a presidential race and the White House, and the president said he believes Clinton will win the Democratic nomination but lose the presidency next year.
In an exclusive interview with Charles Gibson airing on Tuesday's World News, Bush acknowledged telling an author recently that he thinks Clinton, D-N.Y., will be the Democratic nominee in 2008 -- in part because of her experience living in the White House as first lady from 1993 through 2001.
"I think she's a very formidable candidate, and one of the interesting things that she brings is that she has been under pressure. She understands the klieg lights," the president said, in a phrase he repeated twice in the interview.
"No question, there is no question that Senator Clinton understands pressure better than any of the candidates, you know, in the race because she lived in the White House and sees it first --could see it first-hand," the president told ABC News' Charlie Gibson Tuesday afternoon at the presidential retreat at Camp David.
The president emphasized, "I do believe our candidate will beat her, if she happens to be the nominee," although he refused to speculate on the Republican presidential field, calling it a "wide-open" race.
Numerous Bush associates -- including, most prominently, Karl Rove -- have said they expect Clinton to win the Democratic nomination.
That prospect is greeted with mixed emotions among many Republicans, who relish the opportunity to run against a polarizing figure such as Sen. Clinton but also bear the scars of battles lost against the Clinton machine.
Senator Barack Obama's campaign wasted no time in responding to the President.
"I can't tell if Bush is endorsing Hillary, hoping she's the nominee, or thanking her for her votes on Iraq and Iran," Obama, D-Ill., spokesperson Bill Burton told ABC News.
The President did allow one insight into Clinton's main nomination rival.
Asked about Obama's statement that he would meet with the leaders of rogue nations without preconditions, the president called it an "odd foreign policy" and suggested that the statement stemmed from his lack of experience.
"These candidates don't really understand is how complex the environment is inside the Oval Office," Bush said. "And how important it is to have a set of principles from which you will not deviate, and, so that you can make good sound decisions. It is impossible -- maybe not, but I think it's impossible for anybody to fully comprehend, you know, how much incoming there is into the Oval Office."
Mrs. Bush said that the experience of serving as first lady would be "very helpful" in preparing someone to become president -- "in the abstract."
"You certainly know what it's like. I mean there's no doubt about it, you know, you know the pressure," she said. "I think it's very helpful. I mean I think it was very helpful for us to have been around the White House as much as we were when his parents served there."
"I don't know who our nominee's gonna be from the Republican Party, and so we'll have a very interesting year watching from the sidelines -- and I'm glad we'll be on the sidelines this time," Mrs. Bush added.
Reflecting on the obstacles facing any candidate for the White House, the First Lady said, "I think that what the American people don't know is how difficult it is to run for president, to run for office, and how much both emotional and physical stamina you need to run for office and I think that's what George is talking about."
When asked by Gibson whether the candidates could ever know the psychological and physical burdens they might face in office, the President replied, "No, you can't… till you actually get in there, and understand the responsibilities that come with the office, you can't possibly, can't possibly comprehend it."
"I'll tell you one thing that'll surprise 'em if they've got an open heart, is that the prayers of the people will affect 'em in a positive way. That has been one of the most surprising aspects of the presidency for me."
Mrs. Bush admitted she could see the presidency "wearing" on her husband but she said, "He's doing great but, I mean, the seven years have flown by, they really have."
Bush family members and members of the president's inner circle have scattered their support among several Republican candidates, including former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.
The president joked that his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, engineered the spreading around of the family's loyalties.
"My mother wisely has said, 'Okay, you pick this camp, you pick that camp, you pick this camp,' " he said.
Mrs. Bush jumped in to say that the family will line up behind the GOP nominee.
"I'll tell you this, they will be united behind the Republican whoever it is when the nomination [battle] is finished," she said.
See more of the president and first lady on "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline" this evening, and on Wednesday on "Good Morning America."