With just six weeks until Republican voters in Iowa head to their presidential caucuses, Mitt Romney is launching his first television ad of the year. Usually, a candidate’s first commercial is a positive, biographical ad, offering a look at his or her background.

The former governor is going a different route.

Mitt Romney’s first television commercial of his second bid for the Republican presidential nomination hits the airwaves Tuesday, but the ad is already creating a controversy.

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee are both slamming the 60-second spot, saying it takes comments made on the campaign trail in 2008 by then-Sen. Obama out of context.

In October 2008, a month before the president was elected, then-candidate Obama spoke in New Hampshire and told voters, “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’”

In Romney’s new attack ad, viewers only see Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” The obvious point is to deceive the public — Romney wants voters to think the quote reflects Obama’s current thinking, not McCain’s three years ago.

Romney, in other words, is choosing to mislead voters and hoping they don’t know the difference.

The same ad, by the way, expresses concern for “record foreclosures,” which is a bizarre line for the Republican to take — he’s the one who recently demanded, “Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.”

In the larger context, how much more deception can Romney try to get away with before he develops a reputation as a candidate with an honesty problem? Last week, an MIT economist who worked with Romney said the former governor is “just lying” about health care policy. The same week, Romney was caught lying about the makeup of the last Congress, and also got caught lying about a quote from the president.

Three weeks ago, the former governor got caught lying about his tax plan, and several times over the last few months, Romney has also been caught lying about economic conditions and whether the president “apologized for America” (he didn’t).

Over the course of a campaign, it stands to reason a candidate who speaks all the time is going to make some mistakes. He or she will invariably also make occasional claims that aren’t supported by the facts. But it seems as if Mitt Romney, when he’s not wildly flip-flopping or avoiding taking firm positions on controversial issues, is frequently just flat-out lying. These aren’t minor slip-ups; these are examples of a candidate who looks more like a con man than a leader.

Romney is taking a huge risk playing this game. He’s already the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, and the political world is starting to solidify its take on his personality. The more the former governor is caught deceiving the public, the more questions about his character will be unavoidable.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.