Plus: Levi Johnston, boyfriend of Palin's pregnant 17-year-old daughter Bristol, sat in the family's VIP box

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated September 03, 2008 11:30 PM
Credit: Ron Edmonds/AP

GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin let her hair down Wednesday, wowing the Republican National Convention with a spunky punch at critics of her experience – and a coupon-clipping approach to government waste.

Palin, the two-year governor of Alaska, boasted that she cleaned house when she took over the governor’s mansion. “That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay,” she said. “And I thought we could muddle through without the governor s personal chef – although I’ve got to admit that sometimes my kids sure miss her.”

The crowd of die-hard Republicans went wild for Palin, 44. The entire Michigan delegation donned hockey jerseys in solidarity with the self-described “Hockey Mom.” Departing from her text, Palin gave those raucous fans a shout-out. “I gotta love the hockey moms. You know what they say about the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”

Her immediate family – plus one – was on hand to support her during her speech. Levi Johnston, boyfriend of Palin’s pregnant 17-year-old daughter Bristol, sat in the family’s VIP box holding Bristol’s hand, making small-talk with her 7-year-old sister Piper, and tending to her 4 -month-old brother’s baby bottle.

Johnston flew to St. Paul, Minn., from Alaska on Tuesday night with the governor’s husband, Todd, and their five children for the hotly-anticipated address, her first since she and her husband made the stunning announcement that Bristol was five months pregnant and intended to marry Johnston, 18.

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnston and Bristol stood as a couple to greet Sen. John McCain in Minnesota. On the airport tarmac, the GOP presidential candidate hugged Bristol then wrapped the two in a loose embrace as he spoke animatedly.

What did he say to the young parents-to-be? “I’m sure he told them he supports them,” daughter Meghan McCain, 23, told PEOPLE. “Our whole family supports them. I just feel for her because even just two weeks ago, she was completely anonymous. She’s a very sweet girl and [Johnston] is very nice. My heart goes out to them.”

Speaker after speaker at Wednesday night’s convention railed against critics of Palin and the recent focus on her family. “The reporting of the past few days has proven tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee ad-libbed in his speech.

And former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani brought the crowd to its feet when he lit into those who question how Palin could be vice president and also take care of her children. “How dare they?” Giuliani bellowed. “When do they ever ask a man that question? How dare they?!” Cindy McCain, with baby Trig Palin in her arms, stood to join the shouted refrain.