WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — With their brand battered and poll numbers hovering near rock bottom, House Republicans are cloistering behind closed doors at a tony golf resort here this week to strategize how to resurrect their image while preparing to renew a contentious fight with President Obama over spending.

“Rape is a four letter word — don’t say it,” the group was advised by a Republican pollster in one session, said a person familiar with the discussion. That was a reference to controversies about rape and abortion that helped lose the party two Senate seats in November.

At their annual retreat, House members in attendance said that invited speakers, pollsters and others repeatedly fretted that the strident tone and tenor of past debates have hurt the party’s image and convinced voters the GOP is working on behalf of the wealthy and not ordinary folks.

Republicans have spent more time broadly discussing a need to address the nation's immigration laws and they will hold a session Friday on “successful communications with minorities and women.”

Two Republican Senate candidates, Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri and former Rep. Richard Mourdock of Indiana, lost their races to Democrats after making controversial comments about rape and pregnancy. Recently Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) stirred that debate up again, saying that Mourdock was "partly right."