The cheers went up even before Ron Paul stepped onstage to greet his adoring fans. “End the Fed! End the Fed! End the Fed!” they shouted, stomping their feet and yelling about a coming revolution.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s presidential primaries in Maryland and the District, Paul — down in the Republican delegate race but a cult hero among many — brought his bold and folksy message to a packed auditorium at the University of Maryland.

His platform of lowering the national debt and ending the Afghan war has caught on among college students, who could play a crucial role in helping the Texas congressman remain a factor in the race.

If he can actually get them to the polls.

“I don’t know everything about Ron Paul, but what I do know, I like. I don’t side with conservatives or liberals, and he seems to be right down the middle,” said Charlie Spence, 19, of Frederick. “He is the most intriguing candidate for young people.”

But asked if he would vote Tuesday, Spence said he probably wouldn’t.

And that has been the conundrum at the center of Paul’s campaign. He is the next big thing on college campuses — drawing a crowd of nearly 2,000 Wednesday night — yet he hasn’t been able to translate that energy into actual votes.

“It sounds like the revolution has arrived,” Paul said in College Park. “There are changes coming out of necessity.”

On health care, he was clear: “Mandates are horrible.”

“But what is government but a big mandate?” he said. “If anything, what they should be talking about is, why can’t we use the interstate commerce clause to sell insurance across state lines?”

But Paul spent much of his speech speaking out against war.

“Why don’t we just mind our own business?” he said, summing up his approach to foreign engagement. “And that means we don’t become the policeman of the world. . . . A lot more can be achieved in peace than at war.”

While Paul has influenced the GOP in terms of limited government, his views on foreign policy have been a hard sell.

But at his rallies, he has drawn a cross section of young people who treat him like a rock star.

“Ron Paul actually stands for something. He believes in limited government, doesn’t support these wars, and he actually votes that way,” said Rachel Cooper, 19, of Bel Air. “And I already voted for him.”