Say what you will about The New York Times, but it sure does endorsements up right. (Before you all fill up my in box, I said “does,” not “decides.”)
The paper has a very cool interactive graphic on its site that traces its presidential endorsements back to 1860.
You can see how many times the paper’s endorsement paralleled what happened at the polls. You can read what editorial writers had to say about Lincoln (apparently his profession as a rail splitter was evidence of his fitness for the job). You can verify that the Times hasn’t endorsed a Republican for president since 1956.
One thing that jumped out at me is how big a role a candidate’s temperament plays in winning the New York Times endorsement (or justifying it, if that’s your bent). Makes sense – what good are heaps of experience without the right reflexes?