(CNN) – Numbers may ultimately win the Republican presidential nomination race for Mitt Romney, if he secures the most delegates, but it appears his campaign has figured talk of numbers isn't helping him get there.
The former Massachusetts governor leads the GOP delegate count after two months of voting, but is still hundreds of delegates away from the 1144 magic number needed. As the slog for delegates entered its third month in March, Romney and his surrogates have argued that victory by another candidate was mathematically improbable.
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But in appearances Wednesday and Thursday, Romney turned his focus from delegates to his credentials.
"Look, I'm perfectly pleased with the process we have," Romney said Thursday on Fox News, acknowledging that his competitors are "tough" and "capable." "But the process itself, it's working," he added.
Earlier in the week, Romney answered similar questions with a different answer.
"You know, this is all about getting delegates," he told reporters on his campaign plane after losing contests in Alabama and Mississippi. "If the polls are right, we'll pick up some delegates. That's what it's all about."
In a paper statement after those votes, he said the delegates earned through proportional allocation put him "even closer to the nomination."
Though in a technical sense, winning 1,144 delegates is what this is all about, some Republican operatives criticized Romney's math-driven argument, saying the numbers-heavy appeal was not the right message for voters.
"Note to Mitt R: please, please, please stop talking delegate counts and process!!" one veteran Republican strategist – and former Romney adviser – Mike Murphy tweeted.
"Romney guys will hammer the delegate spin now, but I think the 'choice is an illusion' message hurts him. Realty, sure. Message? No," said Murphy in another post.
Romney supporter and former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott made a similar case, telling CNN that, "Romney needs to focus more on the consistency of a positive message. What's the number one thing people are concerned about? The economy and jobs."
Romney's advisors have advanced the mathematics logic in campaign memoranda sent to reporters, such as one from Romney political director Rich Beeson following the Alabama and Mississippi vote on Tuesday.
"Santorum and Gingrich now trail Governor Romney by margins they cannot mathematically make up," Beeson wrote on Wednesday. "In order to win, both Santorum and Gingrich need to start netting an impossible number of delegates to overtake Governor Romney."
The campaign first made the mathematical argument after the Iowa caucuses, when Romney and Santorum were separated by a mere handful of votes. The contest eventually ended in a Santorum win, but both he and Romney won an equal number of delegates.
As this played out, the campaign's pollster argued in a memo that Romney's finish was an accomplishment.
"Governor Romney squeezed past five other front-runners in the state, four of whom had significant double-digit leads," Neil Newhouse, the pollster, wrote. "All of the other candidates except for Gov. Romney and Senator Santorum lost support through this campaign, while both Romney and Santorum gained (the latter obviously gaining the most)."
"While kudos have to go to the Santorum campaign for their strong finish, observers shouldn't minimize the challenges that Gov. Romney's campaign overcame to come out on top in the Iowa Caucuses."
- CNN's Peter Hamby, Rachel Streitfeld, and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.