Levi the Teen Dad Hits the Big Time

Thrust into the national spotlight under the gaze of tens of millions of viewers across the country, Levi Johnston, the husband-to-be of the vice presidential nominee's daughter, stood upon the stage of the Xcel Center in St. Paul looking like he'd come a long way from his days brawling in the hockey rinks of Wasilla, Alaska.

Buttoned-down and trim in a navy-blue suit and purple pinstriped tie, Johnston held hands with Bristol Palin, Gov. Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter, whose pregnancy rocked the political world this week.

"He was all dressed up but he looked very natural," says Susan MacManus, political scientist at the University of South Florida. "And that worked very well for Palin because people like to see themselves reflected in the candidate's family."

During Palin's prime-time speech, the cameras kept cutting away to the young couple, Bristol stroking Levi's cheek at one point and smiling at each other.

Along with the rest of the country, the residents of tiny Wasilla watched and wondered as one of their neighbors made his debut at the convention and earlier on Wednesday at a news conference with John McCain.

And they couldn't help wondering what the Republican presidential nominee was whispering in the ear of Johnston, the town's 18-year-old hockey hero.

"I'm not even sure if I really want to know what he was telling Levi," Jan Schwarzburg, a computer programmer in Wasilla whose son Alec is a teammate of Johnston on the Wasilla Warriors hockey team, told ABCNews.com. "'No more surprises, kid!' Who knows? We actually feel kind of sorry for the family, to be in the spotlight like that."

Johnston's headline-making appearance at the afternoon news conference and later when, after his future mother-in-law's speech at the GOP convention, he stood onstage sheepishly holding hands with Bristol, were especially surprising to many locals, given Johnston's roughneck reputation and the self-professed "redneck" lifestyle he touted on his MySpace page.

"He seems to be likeable, maybe a little hot-headed," says Schwarzburg, who said that most people were surprised to hear that Johnston and Bristol were engaged. "He got into some trouble fighting on the hockey rink last year. But that's how it gets on the ice."

A classmate of Johnston who declined to give his name said that the couple never told anyone about their plans to marry.

"Levi never said anything – everyone knew they were together but he didn't seem like he was ready to walk down the aisle," he said. "They're just a regular couple who like to hang out with their friends, eat pizza."

Johnston's mother insisted that her son wasn't pushed into a shotgun wedding, telling reporters camped outside her home that Levi and Bristol planned to marry even before they found out she was pregnant.

"This is just a bonus," she told The Associated Press.

Other residents were more defensive about their unlikely poster boy.

"They're all good kids around here," says Philip Jacksi, a neighbor of the Johnston family. "Some are bad apples as always, but there are a lot of lies and mistruths out there. Sarah and her family and Levi, we hope they can survive all these assaults on their integrity."

Johnston went from obscurity to infamy on Tuesday when he was revealed as the father of Bristol's unborn child, especially surprising considering some of the sentiments he expressed on his MySpace about parenthood.

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