The GOP presidential nominating contest is not a battle between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum – it’s a race between Romney and a deadlocked national convention.

So says former Missouri senator Jim Talent, a top surrogate for the Romney campaign.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R). (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In an interview Thursday on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” Talent framed the delegate race as one in which voters are faced with two distinct alternatives.

“This has really become sort of a race between Mitt Romney and a deadlocked convention, because those are the two alternatives,” Talent said. “Either we grind it out, and I think we will, and get to the necessary total, or the convention is going to be deadlocked, which doesn’t benefit anybody but Barack Obama.”

The statement by Talent is noteworthy because it’s an instance of Romney’s camp acknowledging that a deadlocked convention is a possibility.

It’s also the latest example of Romney’s campaign making a process-oriented argument in its quest for the 1,144 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.

Talent on Thursday renewed the Romney camp’s case that the former Massachusetts governor is the strongest candidate when it comes to fixing the economy.

“We have an outstanding message; our people are enthusiastic about what Mitt Romney can do about the economy, about spending and his chances of beating Barack Obama,” he said. “So we’re going to continue with that message.”

But he also spent a considerable amount of time noting that in the delegate race, “it’s going to be Mitt Romney or we’re not going to have a nominee until September, which isn’t very good.”

“Now the alternative, again, Speaker [Newt] Gingrich’s campaign said this today is their strategy is to create a deadlocked convention which gives Barack Obama the summer off,” Talent told MSNBC’s Mitchell, referring to the former House speaker who is trailing in the race. “It means that Republicans are shooting at each other all summer long. I mean, that doesn’t benefit anybody but the president.”