Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney energized a crowd of construction industry executives by promising to undo much of the regulatory and labor initiatives of the Obama administration, during a speech Thursday in front of members of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. in Phoenix. Just hours later, ABC announced its endorsement of Romney's candidacy during its board of directors meeting.

Photo courtesy ABC
Romney won the endorsement of the Associated Builders and Contractors following his address to the group's board of directors on Thursday in Phoenix.

Romney, who had sparred the night before with Republican primary opponents at the party’s 20th debate in Mesa, Ariz., spoke to construction business leaders attending ABC’s annual BizCon, held this year at the historic Arizona Biltmore Hotel.

He pledged to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, specifically citing regulations on fracking and coal, while saying that the easiest decision he’d make as a newly elected President would be to open up the Keystone Pipeline.

Romney also accused Obama of dragging his feet on free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea “because organized unions didn’t want it.”

It was his tough talk towards unions that brought the first of two standing ovations during Romney’s 25-minute speech. “If I become President of the United States, I will curb the practice we have in this country of giving union bosses an unfair advantage in contracting,” Romney said. “One of the first things I’ll do—actually on day one—is I will end the government’s favoritism towards unions in contracting on federal projects and end project labor agreements, and I will fight to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act.”

After the roused crowd took their seats, Romney quipped “I didn’t know that was going to get that kind of response, or I would have said it earlier. “

He then turned his attention to his Republican rival, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who has been surging in recent polls in Arizona and Michigan, two of the states holding primaries next week on Super Tuesday. Calling last night’s debate “fun,” Romney said “we saw Sen. Santorum explain most of the night why he did or voted for things he disagreed with, and he talked about this as being ‘taking one for the team.’ I wonder which team he was taking it for? My team is the American people, not the insiders in Washington, and I'll fight for the people of America, not special interests.”

Using a similar line of attack during the previous night’s debate, Romney was accused by Santorum of “misrepresenting the facts.”

Eric Regelin, 2012 ABC national chairman and president of Granix LLC, Ellicott City, Md., praised Romney’s like-minded support of the merit-shop philosophy and belief in freedom of choice for workers to join a union or not. In a statement after the endorsement was announced, Regelin said it was Romney's clear position on the issues important to ABC members that led to the decision.