Polls show Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailing front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum ahead of Tuesday's primary. But the Texas congressman said after Monday's event at Little Rock Baptist Church that his goal is to "whittle away" at the total number of delegates available.
Paul hasn't won any states early in the primary season, but the idea is to amass delegates and earn a significant role in the Republican Party's national convention this summer.
About 2,000 students cheered him at a Monday afternoon rally at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Lauren Kubert, a 19-year-old sophomore from Novi, said she was excited to cast her first-ever vote for Paul on Tuesday.
"So far I like everything that he stands for," she said. Students loudly chanted "President Paul!" and "End the Fed!" several times during Paul's speech in a packed auditorium.
The candidate planned a stop Monday evening in Dearborn to wrap up his three-day swing through the state.
Paul said he was proud of his decision to stop in Detroit, which has not traditionally been a destination point for his fellow GOP presidential hopefuls.
"Everybody knows I'm not a conventional Republican," he said.
That's precisely why Paul Sherbeck, a retired middle school math teacher, showed up for the event.
"He's like a rock star," the 57-year-old from suburban Northville said of Paul, whom Sherbeck said attracts supporters via his "message of economic and personal freedom."
Hundreds of college students attended a Paul campaign rally Saturday in Mount Pleasant, and some couldn't get in because the auditorium reached capacity. That wasn't the case Monday at Little Rock Baptist, where pews were not filled to hear the candidate speak.
Still, he earned raucous applause after some lines and a standing ovation after describing as "not fair" statistics that indicate minorities disproportionately are arrested, convicted and imprisoned in the United States.
Supporters stood on the steps of the historic church an hour in advance of Monday's event, waving signs and eliciting more than a few honks from passing motorists on Woodward Avenue, a major north-south artery through Detroit.
Once inside, Paul's appearance lasted about 45 minutes. He talked about the economy, education, foreign policy and drugs before taking questions from students at Riverside Preparatory School, which is dedicated to helping those who have struggled to complete their educations turn things around and earn diplomas.
The town-hall style event was called "Solving Detroit's Crises" and was held not far from Henry Ford Hospital, where Paul completed his medical residency in 1962.