WASHINGTON, D.C. -- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday theDemocratic Party was coalescing behind Hillary Rodham Clinton as itspresidential nominee for 2016, and she urged the former secretary ofState to get in the race.

In an interview on USA TODAY's "Capital Download," Pelosi stopped just short of formally endorsing Clinton.

"I'mnot making endorsements right now, because I don't think that'sappropriate," she demurred. "But I am gauging, I'm gauging. I'mencouraging people to think about it, so in case she asks us, we havesomething to say to her."

Does she think the party is coalescing behind Clinton?

"I think so; I think so," she said. "There's a great deal of excitement about the prospect that she would run."

TheCalifornia congresswoman, herself a groundbreaker as the only woman toserve as speaker of the House, made it clear what her advice would be:Do it. "I don't know why she wouldn't run," Pelosi said. "She'sprepared. She's well-known. She's highly respected. She knows she coulddo the job very, very well."

In 2008, Pelosi was House speaker andstayed officially neutral in the primary battle between Clinton andBarack Obama. She drew ire from Clinton's campaign with a comment thatit would be "harmful" for unelected "superdelegates" to determine thenomination. At that key moment, support from superdelegates was seen asthe only way Clinton might prevail.

Pelosi describes Clinton ashistorically well-qualified to be commander in chief, noting she hasserved as first lady, a New York senator and a member of the Senate'sArmed Services Committee as well as head of the State Department.

"IfSecretary Clinton were to run ? and we think if she ran, she would win ?I believe that she would be the best-prepared person to enter the WhiteHouse in decades, in decades," Pelosi said, "with all due respect toher husband, present company and other presidents."

In earlypolling, Clinton leads the 2016 field, but there are other prominentDemocrats who have expressed interest in running, among them VicePresident Biden. In a Quinnipiac University Poll released last month,Clinton was supported by 65% of Democrats for the nomination, trailed byBiden at 13% and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at 4%.