WASHINGTON (AP) _ The 1992 presidential candidates are lining up for the first installment of federal matching funds, and President Bush is asking for the biggest check.

Bush's unannounced campaign filed for $2.6 million on Monday, while the six Democrats vying for the right to oppose him requested a combined $3.2 million.

The Federal Election Commission has to certify the submissions, and Monday was the deadline for the first round of payments, to be made Jan. 2.

The money comes from the Treasury fund financed by taxpayer checkoffs, and is used to match individual contributions of up to $250 to presidential campaigns that agree to abide by spending limits.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin made the largest request among the Democrats, asking for $1.1 million in matching funds. Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton each sought $580,000 and former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas requested $485,596. He has committed $175,000 of that to pay back a campaign loan.

Trailing in the Democratic field were former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who requested $289,000, and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who filed for $203,442.

Lenora Fulani, a New Alliance Party presidential candidate, also has filed for matching funds totaling $633,866, more than all but Harkin in the Democratic field.

The filings for matching funds, however, are not necessarily illustrative of a candidate's overall fund raising because only the first $250 of each individual contribution is eligible.

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The Mario Watch continues.

Not too long ago, advisers to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo were saying he had until Thanksgiving or so to decide whether to run for president.

But with that holiday passed, Cuomo supporters are now looking more to mid- to late December, saying he must first deal with a budget crunch in Albany.

Dec. 20 is the deadline for filing for New Hampshire's presidential primary. Some other states, like Illinois, have mid-January deadlines but require petitions, so a campaign would have to collect signatures in advance.

''We're in an important period as far as the presidential process is concerned,'' said New York Democratic Chairman John Marino, a Cuomo adviser. ''So you'd have to say it's important to decide in the next two, three weeks.''

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Clinton's presidential campaign has landed two of the hottest properties in Democratic Party circles.

The consulting team of James Carville and Paul Begala agreed Monday to join the Arkansas governor's strategy team.

Carville and Begala were the architects of Sen. Harris Wofford's landslide upset in a Pennsylvania Senate race against former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Thornburgh resigned from Bush's Cabinet to seek the Senate seat and had a 44-point lead in one early poll.

Wofford's aggressive campaign focused on health care and economic concerns, with the Democrat linking Thornburgh to Bush and accusing the president of turning his back on the middle class during a painful recession.

The work of Carville and Begala drew the attention of Democrats nationwide, and the Wofford campaign is being used as a model for 1992 Democratic campaigns.

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Wilder is sending a campaign operative into enemy territory.

Deputy campaign manager Scott Bates is traveling next week to Iowa to assess whether the Virginia governor could make any inroads in a state the Democratic candidates have all but conceded to native son Harkin.

''The governor said he wasn't going to concede Iowa to anybody and we're going to put something together to see if we can do some ground work there,'' said Wilder campaign manager Joseph Johnson.

Wilder has signed up the first black member of the Des Moines City Council, Preston Daniels, as his Iowa coordinator. Bates will touch base with Daniels and other Wilder supporters to determine whether the governor should make an effort to place or show in Iowa's Feb. 10 caucuses, Johnson said.