Marvin Mandel once wanted to close it. Richard Nixon wanted to sell it. Now Frank Wolf -- Northern Virginia's new 10th District Republica congressman -- wants the state of Virginia to lease it.

The only problem with Wolf's plan for the property in question -- the federally owned Dulles International Airport -- is that the potential lessee doesn't appear to want the ailing facility.

At his first press conference since taking office, Wolf yesterday unveiled legislation directing the Department of Transportaiton to enter negotiations with the state. As recently as last Saturday, however, Gov. John N. Dalton addressed the proposal by saying, "I don't see how you could expect that the state would take it on as a financial drain."

Dalton, already embroiled in financial haggling with the fiscally conservative legislature, echoed the concern of many downstate lawmakers. On a tour of Northern Virginia last weekend, several heard state Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax) pitch the idea, and reacted with equal skepticism.

"What they're looking for is somebody to prop them up while they're still in the development stage," said House Speaker A. L. Philpott (D-Henry County). "But you're looking at something that's been around for 18 years and it's still in the development stage. That's a little unusual for a business to take 18 years to get going."

State officials are leery of the proposal because it doesn't include National Airport, Dulles' primary competitor. Without control over use of National, they say, it would be impossible to guarantee a profit at Dulles, which this year is expected to lose as much as $3 million.

Traffic at Dulles was down to 2.6 million passengers in 1980, a drop of 26 percent from the year before, though the airport has recently attracted new air carriers and Eastern Airlines plans to return there soon.

Wolf, fielding questions from a roomful of reporters in the Capitol, squared his shoulders and defended the idea. It "fits right in with what President Reagan's been saying" regarding increased state control of previously federal terrain, he said. "If people dare to think great, they can think of this as a financial boon."

The only problem, Wolf said, is that Dulles hasn't been marketed properly."BWI [Baltimore-Washington International Airport] is spending $1 million in promotions and they're making a profit." Because the federal government, which operates both Dulles and National, is barred from advertising, only about $50,000 in state funds is allocated to promote Dulles.

"I'm surprised Dulles is doing as well as it is," Wolf said.

Asked why National was not included in his proposal, Wolf said, "I think the way to approach it is to tackle the problem of Dulles first." Besides, he said, "There will be a cap on flights at National."

A new National Airport policy, scheduled to take effect April 26, would limit National to 18 million passengers annually (it now has more than 15 million) and reduce by about 20 percent the number of big airline flights permitted daily, among other provisions.

A headache to Northern Virginia congressmen for nearly two decades, the Dulles-National imbroglio has inspired numerous proposed solutions. In 1969, Richard Nixon proffered the idea of selling both Dulles and National to get them off the federal government's hands.

Prospective buyers responded, among them then-Maryland governor Marvin Mandel. Through a grinning aide, Mandel said he was entirely serious about buying both, then shutting them down to boost traffic at Baltimore's foundering Friendship Airport (now BWI).

"I'm not suggesting this will sail through," said Wolf, who spent five years campaigning for his congressional seat. But, "I'm very persistent."