1 of 2
Paul Sancya, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks at a rally at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012.

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Rep. Ron Paul launched a three-day tour of Michigan on Saturday, calling on a packed hall of energized college students and military veterans to back him in the state's Republican presidential primary this week and to help him drive home his limited-government message in Washington.

Paul, who along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trail front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in the polls ahead of Tuesday's primary, told the roughly 1,300 supporters lucky enough to get into the auditorium that, "a very powerful message can be sent by winning this election."

The Texas congressman, who has served in Congress since 1997, said Washington is "sound asleep" and "they need to hear our message loud and clear."

Saturday's event was meant to show that Paul has support among military veterans, however hundreds of college students attended and some couldn't get in because the auditorium reached capacity. Supporters lined the walls inside the hall and the campaign said at least 150 others listened outside via speakers.

Paul planned to speak Sunday to small business owners in Hudsonville, on Michigan's west side. On Monday, Paul has events scheduled in Detroit, at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and in Dearborn.

Paul has not won any states early in the primary season but he's working to amass delegates, which could land him a significant role in the Republican Party's national convention this summer.

Some of Paul's views on limited government and low taxes fit in with the Republican mainstream, but he breaks with much of his party when he criticizes American intervention abroad and puts a premium on individual rights as the nation works to root out domestic terror.

Paul addressed most of his main themes during Saturday's campaign stop. He railed against intervention in the Middle East and the federal debt, saying he wants to keep money in citizens' pockets rather than making them give it to the government.

"His message is what energizes people," said Reg Thomas, 49, of Rochester Hills, Mich. "It's a message that has been around for a couple hundred years. Freedom sells."

Romney is under pressure to win Michigan, a state he captured when he ran in 2008 and had been expected to win again before Santorum's campaign surged. Romney grew up in Michigan and is the son of a former governor.

Whoever wins Michigan will gain essential momentum heading into Super Tuesday, the 10-state sweepstakes the following week.