COLUMBIA, S.C. — One might think that the last thing Martin O’Malley needs is another Democratic alternative to Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

The former Maryland governor is already running in the shadow of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who’s emerged as the leading non-Clinton candidate for the Democratic nomination, a role O’Malley no doubt hoped to occupy. And yet O’Malley told reporters Tuesday that he would welcome Vice President Biden to the contest — and that his candidacy would be good for the party.

“Vice President Biden is a very, very good man, and I think he also cares very passionately about the future of our country and whether or not the American Dream is a reality for families or whether we let it turn into a lie,” O’Malley told reporters here when asked about the latest round of speculation that Biden might get in the race.

“People are looking for alternatives, and they don’t like being told who they're supposed to be voting for, and they don’t like the sinking sense that’s in the air that somehow big money determines who our nominee is going to be,” O’Malley said. “So I would welcome Vice President Biden to this race, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

O’Malley’s response was far different than one offered Sunday by Sanders, who suggested that Biden is part of “conventional establishment politics.”

"I've known Joe Biden for many years, and I'm very fond of Joe. But I think the American people ... want to go beyond conventional establishment politics," Sanders said Sunday on ABC News's "This Week."

O’Malley’s comments came as he made his first campaign swing through South Carolina, an early primary state, since announcing his candidacy May 30.

O’Malley met Tuesday morning with members of 20/20 Leaders of America, a new bipartisan group of African Americans from around the country, to discuss criminal justice. O’Malley made several references to a white paper he released on the subject last week that included increased data reporting by law enforcement agencies and ending the death penalty nationwide.

During the session, the first the group has held with a 2016 candidate, O’Malley also proposed a constitutional amendment to protect the right of citizens to vote.

O’Malley was also scheduled to meet Tuesday with leaders of historically black colleges and universities.