Democrats and Republicans are trying to get their respective acts together — by holding retreats.

President Barack Obama huddled with Senate Democrats Wednesday at an issues retreat in Annapolis, Md. He'll address a House Democratic winter retreat Thursday in Leesburg, Va.

House Republican leaders recently emerged from their own three-day retreat in Williamsburg, Va., introducing a new softer side while maintaining a hard line on slashing deficits and fighting tax increases.

"There is no substitute for getting our fiscal house in order. ... But I'd like to focus our attention on what lies beyond these fiscal debates," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told the conservative American Enterprise Institute Tuesday.

Republicans must work harder on education, health care and other kitchen-table issues, Cantor said from a podium emblazoned with the Twitter hashtag: (hash)MakingLifeWork.

Both Democrats and Republicans are operating in a shifting demographic and economic landscape.

Recurring budget battles between the two parties have created near-gridlock in Washington.

For their party, GOP leaders are advocating a more inclusive, pragmatic course to appeal more to women, minorities and young people — voting blocs that have recently favored Democrats. But they are sparring with tea-party and other internal factions who want to more closely adhere to conservative doctrine.

While the GOP's standing remains low among voters, polls also show deep public concern over government deficits and weak job creation.

While trying to build on November election gains, Democrats argue it's not just Republicans who want to tame government deficits.

Some centrist Democrats fret that Obama's recent focus on gun control, climate change and other non-economic issues could detract from efforts to reinvigorate the economy and create jobs.

Republicans, in their rebranding efforts, are heading down a path blazed by the last two GOP presidents.

George H. W. Bush urged a "kinder and gentler nation," while son George W. Bush declared himself a "compassionate conservative."

But each quickly became embroiled in battles with congressional Democrats.

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Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum

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