By Ros Krasny

BOSTON, Aug 23 (Reuters) - A Republican candidate in New Hampshire backed down on Thursday from a suggestion he would use "deadly force" to stop doctors from performing abortions, saying he "let his imagination get out of control."

Frank Szabo, who is running for sheriff in Hillsborough County, caused a uproar with his threats to crack down on legal abortion with arrests, prosecution and further actions aimed at doctors.

"Deadly force is always a last resort," Szabo said in interview with the television station WMUR on Wednesday. "Why would anyone object to the use of deadly force to prevent the murder of an unborn human?"

Facing a firestorm of criticism from Republicans and Democrats within his state, and after his comments were widely distributed via social media, Szabo retracted his remarks in a press release.

"I made several comments about the use of deadly force against abortion doctors that I regret, that I apologize for and that I fully retract," Szabo said.

Szabo's heated rhetoric came at a time when the Republican Party is already dealing with fallout from comments by Todd Akin, candidate for the U.S. Senate from Missouri, suggesting that women rarely get pregnant from "legitimate" rape.

Akin's remarks also put the focus back on earlier attempts by Republicans in Congress to parse the definition of rape by distinguishing between "forcible" and other rapes when determining a woman's access to abortion.

Responding to Szabo's comments Kevin Smith, Republican candidate for New Hampshire governor, said on Twitter that there was "no place" for Szabo's "dangerous" views.

Although Wednesday's comments escalated the rhetoric, Szabo has made clear for weeks his anti-abortion views and plans to crack down on doctors performing abortions.

"Abortion on demand is murder. Once elected, Sheriff Szabo will arrest anyone involved in the murder of a citizen of Hillsborough County," the candidate said in a news release earlier in August.

In his apology Szabo said he "respects the life of doctors, and tried to remake his floundering campaign.

"As sheriff, when the moral waters are murky, I would always err on the side of prudence. This isn't the 19th century."

Szabo, a resident of Goffstown, has made it clear in earlier campaign releases that he "decidedly" does not have law enforcement or legal experience. In the past he owned and operated a limousine service.

On his campaign website Szabo vows to be a "protector."

"It's all about property. You want to keep it. Someone else wants to take it," Szabo's platform states.

Hillsborough is New Hampshire's most populous county, including much of Manchester, the state's largest city, and Nashua, just over the border with Massachusetts. (Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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