Confronted by angry voters, GOP Senator Joni Ernst flees Iowa town hall through a side-door

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a "rising star" in the GOP, ran as an "independent" thinker, but has dutifully toed the GOP line since taking office — that's why the town halls on her "99-county tour" of Iowa are packed with angry people who want to know about Trump's relationship to the Russian government, and the GOP's plan to destroy their health care without anything credible to replace it; it's also why most of the stops on Ernst's tours are planned photo-ops at factories instead of public events where voters can actually talk to their elected rep.

Last night, Ernst staged a rare public appearance, but it was in the 100-seat Maquoketa City Hall, where the crowd was forced to stand in the hallways and atriums and spillover rooms, where the sound from the semi-functional PA system didn't reach. Even though Ernst limited her Q&A to softballs from a contingent of veterans, she still chickened out and fled the hall after a mere 45 minutes, after being asked a question about the GOP's lack of a meaningful plan for replacing Obamacare.

After Ernst's event, dozens of attendees lingered outside.

"It was not put together well at all," Pence said. "If they had turned on any news outlet, whether they think it's fake or not, they would have known that town halls across the country have been filling up like this."

"The microphone they did have in there was worse than my iPhone, so even if you were in the back of the room, you still couldn't hear."

She and others complained outside afterward that Ernst spent just two minutes addressing Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

"She didn't answer anything about health care. Nothing," said Pence's mother-in-law, Lois Pence, 57.

"Not for everyone's health care — just VA," Marla Swesey, a 63-year-old retiree who had made an 80-minute drive from Iowa City, said.

"Well, she didn't even answer that though, really, did she?" Lois Pence shot back.

Swesey said she is "disappointed" Ernst campaigned as an independent, no-nonsense voice, but doesn't more frequently break from Republicans.

"I wanted to ask a question about why she's doing that when she's a strong woman, and I think she could really make a bigger point about what strong women are all about," she said.

"And I was disappointed they didn't have the mics working," she said. "From a senator? They should have things working."

Ernst runs into the anti-Trump resistance in rural Iowa [Eric Bradner/CNN]

(Image: Eric Bradner)